Robert Herrick

Robert Herrick (baptized August 24, 1591- October 1674)Herrick was born in London, the son of Nicholas Herrick, a well-to-do goldsmith, who committed suicide when Robert was a year old. It is thought that he attended Westminster School although there are no absolute records of this. In 1607 he apprenticed to his uncle, Sir William Herrick, who was also a goldsmith and jeweler to the king. Herrick ended his apprenticeship after only six years, at age twenty-two, at which time he entered St. John’s College, Cambridge.He graduated in 1617.
Upon graduation he began composing poetry and became active within the “Sons of Ben“, a group of Cavalier poets centered around an admiration for the works of Ben Jonson. During this time he made numerous connections at court with influential figures such as the Earl of Pembroke, Endymion Porter, Newark, Buckingham, Edward Norgate, etc… His poetry circulated at court and it (and perhaps he himself) was known by the King and Queen. He was known to be charming and witty and and would have been a welcome guest wherever music and poetry were welcome. In or before 1627, he took religious orders. At this point one would have surmised either a minor position at court… or perhaps at the Chapel in Whitehall.Unfortunately Herrick became attached as the chaplain to the ill-fated expedition to the Isle of Rhé and two years later he was appointed by the king to the position of vicar of the parish of Dean Prior, Devon in 1629.
This small position far removed from the court in London and offering no great pay… yet demanding much of the vicar led Herrick to compose Mr. Robert Hericke: his farwell unto Poetrie . However, his responsibilities did not result in the end of his career as a poet. Indeed, it was in the secluded rural environs of Devon (located in South-West England) that he wrote some of his best work.In spite of the demands of his post, he reportedly took his responsibilities as a parish priest to heart, and he was essentially a man at peace with his place and much beloved by his parishioners. Nevertheless, it has been recorded that he once was known to have thrown the manuscript of his sermon at an unfortunate parishioner who had fallen asleep during the sermon.
His poem A Thanksgiving to God for his House describes an idyllic rural life, spent in his little house surrounded by animals (including his beloved spaniel and reportedly a trained pig) and the poor but not unwelcome parishioners… but not without his pleasures of “guiltlesse mirth” and “Wassaile Bowles… Spic’d to the brink”. He was cared for by his devoted maid, Prudence Baldwin, the “Prew” of so many of his verses.
Following the English Civil War, his position was revoked on account of his refusal to make pledge to the “Solemn League and Covenant” which involved an alliance between the Protestants and the Scottish against their common enemy, the Royalists and Catholics… in return for England adopting the Scottish Presbyterian method of church government. Herrick was forced to return to London where he lived in Westminster, and depended upon the charity of friends and family. He spent this time preparing his poetry for publication. They were initially printed in 1648 under the title Hesperides; or the Works both Human and Divine of Robert Herrick. The volume contained hundreds of alternately exquisite lyrical love poems, short satires and epigrams, and religious poems. A second subsection included in the Hesperides was entitled Noble Numbers and was comprised solely of poems of sacred subjects.
Following the Restoration in 1660, with Charles II assuming the throne, Herrick petitioned for his own restoration to his previous post. Herrick was returned to his position as vicar of Dean Prior again in the summer of 1662 where he would remain until his death in 1674, at the age of 83. Herrick was a bachelor all his life, and many of the women he names in his poems are thought to be fictional… although one cannot be entirely certain as to whether some are indeed based upon real women. Herrick wrote numerous poems in which his beloved “Prew” figures, but also poems for his brothers and their wives and their children… as well as one poem in which he imagines how he himself might part from his wife… if he were to have one:
Desunt nonnulla—
COME then, and like two doves with silv’ry wings,
Let our souls fly to th’ shades where ever springs
Sit smiling in the meads ; where balm and oil,
Roses and cassia crown the untill’d soil.
Where no disease reigns, or infection comes
To blast the air, but ambergris and gums.
This, that, and ev’ry thicket doth transpire
More sweet than storax from the hallowed fire,
Where ev’ry tree a wealthy issue bears
Of fragrant apples, blushing plums, or pears;
And all the shrubs, with sparkling spangles, shew
Like morning sunshine tinselling the dew.
Here in green meadows sits eternal May,
Purfling the margents, while perpetual day
So double gilds the air, as that no night
Can ever rust th’ enamel of the light.
Here, naked younglings, handsome striplings, run
Their goals for virgins’ kisses ; which when done,
Then unto dancing forth the learned round
Commixed they meet, with endless roses crown’d.
And here we’ll sit on primrose-banks, and see
Love’s chorus led by Cupid ; and we’ll be
Two loving followers, too, unto the grove
Where poets sing the stories of our love.
There thou shalt hear divine Musæus sing
Of Hero and Leander ; then I’ll bring
Thee to the stand, where honour‘d Homer reads
His Odysseys and his high Iliads;
About whose throne the crowd of poets throng
To hear the incantation of his tongue:
To Linus, then to Pindar ; and that done,
I’ll bring thee, Herrick, to Anacreon,
Quaffing his full-crown’d bowls of burning wine,
And in his raptures speaking lines of thine,
Like to his subject ; and as his frantic
Looks shew him truly Bacchanalian-like
Besmear’d with grapes, welcome he shall thee thither,
Where both may rage, both drink and dance together.
Then stately Virgil, witty Ovid, by
Whom fair Corinna sits, and doth comply
With ivory wrists his laureat head, and steeps
His eye in dew of kisses while he sleeps ;
Then soft Catullus, sharp-fang’d Martial,
And towering Lucan, Horace, Juvenal,
And snaky Persius, these, and those, whom rage
(Dropt for the jars of heaven) fill’d t’ engage
All times unto their frenzies ; thou shalt there
Behold them in a spacious theatre.
Among which glories, crowned with sacred bays
And flatt’ring ivy, two recite their plays—
Beaumont and Fletcher, swans to whom all ears
Listen, while they, like syrens in their spheres,
Sing their Evadne ; and still more for thee
There yet remains to know than thou can’st see
By glim‘ring of a fancy. Do but come,
And there I’ll shew thee that capacious room
In which thy father Jonson now is plac’d,
As in a globe of radiant fire, and grac’d
To be in that orb crown’d, that doth include
Those prophets of the former magnitude,
And he one chief ; but hark, I hear the cock
(The bellman of the night) proclaim the clock
Of late struck one, and now I see the prime
Of day break from the pregnant east : ‘tis time
I vanish ; more I had to say,
But night determines here, away
.Transpire, breathe.
Purfling, trimming, embroidering.
Margents, bowers.
Round, rustic dance.
Rage, the poetic “furor”.
Comply, encircle.
Their Evadne, the sister of Melantius in their play”The Maid’s Tragedy”.
Herrick’s apprenticeship as a jeweler and goldsmith are especially intriguing when one considers just how jewel-like his poems are. He is a master of the miniature… rather like those Elizabethan cameos. (Its only fitting that my own personal collection of his poems is itself a miniature volume.) He’s all flowers, perfume and other sweet scents, gems, and beautiful women. His touch is exquisitely light… “precious” in the finest sense of the world:
GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying :
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may go marry:
For having lost but once your prime
You may for ever tarry.
A SWEET disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness :
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction :
An erring lace which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher :
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbons to flow confusedly :
A winning wave (deserving note)
In the tempestuous petticoat :
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility :
Do more bewitch me than when art
Is too precise in every part.
WHENAS in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.
Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free ;
O how that glittering taketh me !
Poems such as these are just marvelous sensual delights! They remind me of the shimmer of satin and lace and a little glimpse of leg as might be found in the paintings of the French Baroque painter,
or some of the more delicate poetry of Verlaine or the chanson of Faure or Debussy. The descriptive sensuality of Herrick’s language employing allusions to sound, sight, scent, touch and even motion is absolutely exquisite. Who can ever forget “…how sweetly flows/ That liquefaction of her clothes…”? What a marvelous word.
Of course… if it is not already obvious… I have long been an admirer of Herrick’s poetry. One poem in particular, The Vine, has always made me smile… if not break into laughter:
I DREAM’D this mortal part of mine
Was Metamorphoz’d to a Vine;
Which crawling one and every way,
Enthrall’d my dainty Lucia.
Me thought, her long small legs & thighs
I with my Tendrils did surprize;
Her Belly, Buttocks, and her Waste
By my soft Nerv’lits were embrac’d:
About her head I writhing hung,
And with rich clusters (hid among
The leaves) her temples I behung:
So that my Lucia seem’d to meYoung
Bacchus ravished by his tree.
My curles about her neck did craule,
And armes and hands they did enthrall:
So that she could not freely stir,
(All parts there made one prisoner.)
But when I crept with leaves to hide
Those parts, which maids keep unespy’d,
Such fleeting pleasures there I took,
That with the fancie I awook;
And found (Ah me!) this flesh of mine
More like a Stock then like a Vine.
Of course it should be mentioned that in contrast to these poems Herrick sprinkled the Hesperides with some poems of a darker nature… often taking the form of epigrams that satirize certain characteristics or weaknesses that Herrick found “ugly”. Many of these may have been inspired by his parishioners… while he is no less sparing of himself.
WRINKLES no more are or no less
Than beauty turned to sourness.
I BEGIN to wane in sight ;
Shortly I shall bid good-night :
Then no gazing more about,
When the tapers once are out.
For more of Herrick (actually all of Herrick):

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: