However, the Queen's Almoner did not confiscate the Herrick estate for the crown as was usually the case with suicides. There is no record of Herrick attending school. In he was apprenticed to his uncle Sir William Herrick as a goldsmith. Get up, get up for shame, the blooming Morn Upon her wings presents the god unshorn. Wash, dress, be brief in praying; Few beads are best when once we go a-Maying. There's not a budding boy, or girl, this day, But is got up, and gone to bring in May. Come, let us go, while we are in our prime; And take the harmless folly of the time. Then while time serves, and we are but decaying, Come, my Corinna, come, let's go a-Maying.
Indeed, the king, though he was nine years younger than Herrick, emerges in Hesperides as yet another father figure. In this encomium, through a conflation of paternal archetypes, Charles is presented as a tutelary deity, a husband, and a conquering hero. Herrick served as vicar of Dean Prior for thirty-one years. That service was not, however, without interruption. Herrick was every inch the Royalist as his panegyrics to Charles I, Henrietta Maria, and Charles, Prince of Wales, make evident and, if his religious poems are any indication, a rather traditional Anglican, even though he resided in a part of the country strongly sympathetic to the Puritan cause and, during the Civil War, to the parliamentary forces.
Such parsons were anathema to the victorious Puritans, and in the poet was among the Devonshire clergymen expelled from their parishes for their convictions. Returning to his post during the Restoration, Herrick served for fourteen more years until his death at the end of harvest season in About his expulsion Herrick must have had mixed feelings. He was, after all, a Londoner born and bred, university educated, and friend and acquaintance to some of the political and cultural powers of the land. A people currish; churlish as the seas; And rude almost as rudest Salvages.
What the poem deplores is the primitiveness, not only of the countryside but of the people themselves, who represent nature unimproved by art—that is, by civilization and culture.
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O People! Musing on the mystery of creativity, on the relationship between milieu and productivity as this most self-conscious poet does more than once , he has to conclude that for Robert Herrick the poet country life cannot be all bad.
Today most readers encounter Herrick in anthology selections. That is, in a sense, how he was first read, in the days when a limited number of his poems circulated in manuscript. When he collected his oeuvre for publication, however, he clearly had something else in mind. He seems to have been the first poet—and still the only important poet—to gather practically all of his verses into one elaborately designed volume and see it through the presses.
From the beginning of that volume Herrick makes it plain that he expects his audience to read his entire book, to read it in the order in which it is printed, and, above all, to read it with understanding and appreciation. Then as now, such an understanding and appreciation require that the reader develop some kind of approach to the text, and here Herrick volunteers his services.
Hesperides is the only major collection of poetry in English to open with a versified table of contents. This guide hints strongly at what type of poet Herrick thinks he is, and thus, by implication, how his book is to be approached. Pastoral poets, of course, valorize a life lived close to the beauties of nature often opposing it to life lived in the decadent city and idealize that life by focusing on the countryside in its most benign seasons.
Elsewhere in Hesperides there is ample warrant for approaching Herrick as a pastoral poet, even though not all nor even most of his poems can be classified as bucolic. Love, of course, is also a common subject of bucolic poetry, but all of the images in these particular lines also have to do with ceremonies—special, often sanctified, events that figure importantly in human life and are fraught with significance as well as emotion.
Poetry, or at least the reading of it, can be thought of as a kind of ritual, so perhaps Herrick is indicating here that he is a poet of ceremony and a ceremonial poet. Elsewhere in Hesperides there is warrant for taking this approach as well. He does not tell the reader that Hesperides includes political poems, ranging from flattering portraits of royalty and nobility to acerbic comments on government officials, practices, and policies.
Nor does Herrick forewarn the reader that the collection also includes shockingly naturalistic, even scatological, epigrams.
In addition, Herrick only hints at the existence of his poems of the good life, works that, in the Cavalier tradition, celebrate friendship and sociability, the pleasures of fine food and drink, of conviviality in general. The inexorable logic of time for humankind at least is the inevitability of decline and death.
Though a Christian priest, Herrick is capable of contemplating death without transfiguration, seeing the grave as the end of all that is good, as ultimate oblivion, nothingness. He views this grim possibility with equanimity, with a poise that is intellectual as well as emotional. Like the classical Stoic, he responds to the prospect of his inevitable death by affirming life, but life lived modestly and taken as it comes, the bad with the good.
No English poet of importance is so selfreferential—so involved in writing poetry about poetry, about its readers, about poets, and about himself as a poet. Altogether, it is an extraordinary way to begin a collection of poetry—at once defensive, disarming, offensive, delightful, and instructive. Such a view is too reductive to be entirely valid, but also too much in the neighborhood of the truth to be dismissed out of hand.
Herrick exhibits an almost Roman gusto for the good life, and to such a life poetry is central. Poetry, however, is also connected with death, or with the denial of death. For Herrick poetry becomes a secular religion and the symbolic foundation of Hesperides.
Whether they were flesh and blood or, as modern consensus has it, pretty fictions is of little consequence: Herrick is only conforming to the common poetic practice of the time when he addresses his uniformly young and beautiful Julias, Corinnas, and Antheas. Where he does not conform is in his penning of romantic verses to identifiable women whose real names he supplies—for example, Elizabeth Wheeler, Lettice Yard, and Katherine Bradshaw.
Next, when I cast mine eyes and see That brave Vibration each way free; O how that glittering taketh me! Indeed, sexual aesthetics—the question of the relationship between appearance and attraction—is a subject of particular interest to Herrick and has led to his being criticized by those who seem to believe that sex is chiefly hormonal. Here the lady is being seduced out of bed to join in the ceremonies of May Day, when the town goes into the country to gather greenery, thereby transforming the country into the town and vice versa.
Critical consensus holds that Herrick is also particularly successful in the genre of the marriage poem. He wrote two of them, both for actual weddings, and they are among the longest and most ambitious of his efforts. Both are ceremonial works in a dual sense: they depict and elevate the rituals that follow the marriage service and, as ceremonial works themselves, they participate in those rituals. Herrick describes his brother as a person who possesses a good conscience, who understands and applies the principle of moderation in all things, including love.
In aphorism after aphorism Herrick builds up the kind of portrait of the ideal person that his ethical epigrams and personal encomiums also paint. Most pastoral poets tend to be city types nostalgic for a golden age or for an impossible rural ideal. Herrick is appreciative of the native English country culture, but he is at the same time aware of its socioeconomic base. The gentleman speaker also notes in closing that the expectations these humble folk have about life are by implication more modest than his, but where there is less to lose, there is less to worry about: Happy Rusticks, best content With the cheapest Merriment: And possesse no other feare, Then to want the Wake next Yeare.
In the very midst of the festivities, however, Herrick bluntly reminds these laborers that although they, like oxen, fatten up in this time of plenty, both men and animals must in the spring go back to working the land. Little is known about Herrick other than what may be gathered from a few extant letters and the 1, poems in his only book, Hesperides; or, The Works both Humane and Divine of Robert Herrick, Esq.
Unknown are what school he attended, what he was doing in , , and , and even the days of his birth and death. Although he probably preached at least 1, times, no sermon has survived. In Nicholas Herrick, son of an ironmonger in Leicester, went to London.
After 10 years as a goldsmith's apprentice, he set up a prosperous business in that craft. In he married Julian Stone, daughter of a prominent London mercer. Their fifth son, Robert, was born in their Cheapside mansion on Goldsmith's Row, and he was baptized on Aug. From his father's craft Robert derived the delight in metals, jewels, and amber which shines in his poetry; and his maternal grandfather's trade inspired the fascination which silks, sheer linens, and other fine textiles had for him.
His eldest brother died when Robert was 14 months old, and a few days later his father fell from the fourth floor of their home to his death. Robert had an excellent schooling in Latin, but when he was 16 his practical, bourgeois relatives apprenticed him to his uncle, Sir William Herrick, a leading goldsmith. But Robert proved more proficient with words than metal. About , when his brother took up farming, Robert memorialized the occasion in "A Country Life," a poem imitative of Horace and Ben Jonson but distinctively his own.
He had already begun to invent his poetic world and populated it with friends and relatives, imaginary mistresses and faithful servants, rascals and fairies, and peasants who made sacrifices to Jove and danced around Maypoles. Shortsightedness may have handicapped Herrick for goldsmithing; he later mentioned his waning eyesight, and throughout his poetry he tends to concentrate on things seen close up—flowers, miniatures, a pipkin of jelly, and those "little spinners," the spiders.
At 22 Herrick was about 6 years older than most undergraduates when he entered St. John's College, Cambridge, as a fellow commoner, paying double fees. Ever eager to enjoy what was available, he participated in student pleasures, made lifelong friends of John Weekes and Clipseby Crew, and laid a foundation in experience for his poems about sack. In them he hailed that potent sherry as "the drink of Gods and Angels," urging the wine to come to him "as Cleopatra came to Anthonie. Despite the gusto with which Herrick celebrated inebriation and imaginary mistresses in poetry, he had his family's common sense, and from Horace he had learned the value of moderation.
So he suggested to his uncle that it might be wise for him to transfer to a less expensive college and study law. This he did, entering sober, intellectual Trinity Hall and assuring his uncle that he would live economically as a recluse, with no company but upright thoughts.
He earned his bachelor of arts and master of arts degrees in In the next 3 years Herrick may have tried to practice law. Perhaps he studied divinity. At any rate, on April 24, , he and his friend Weekes were ordained deacons and, on the next day, priests in the Church of England. This uncanonical haste suggests that he became some nobleman's chaplain. Two-thirds of the English forces were killed, but Herrick survived to be rewarded by Charles I with the vicarage of Dean Prior in Devonshire.