Robert Herrick

Robert Herrick  (1591-1674) seemed to have dreamed his way through life treating any imposed decisions he had to make, more as tedious disturbances.
His father was a prosperous goldsmith, which may not have stimulated Robert to excel in his studies or to have great ambitions regarding a career. He would have preferred to pass all his time leisurely, concentrating only on the studies that interested him, and in London, where he would often discuss literature with Ben Jonson, whom he greatly admired, whilst together they would drink sack (his favourite drink).

Yet despite all this, the inevitable, social duties caught up with him, and he was somehow persuaded to take Church orders. As a result, unenthusiastically he moved to the parish of Dean Prior in Devonshire.
Even though he didn't feel at home there, at least at first, he adapted well enough to be able to write a lot of poetry, but he never bothered to try to have any of his work published then.

He playfully invented mistresses for some of his poems, and his writings reveal his love of life and a fond respect for nature- which seems to have been as important a divinity for him as the One he was supposed to be serving. His major poem 'Corinna's Going A-Maying' also reflects this.

Such a 'semi-pagan' attitude of a Church minister would have been regarded as scandalous in the growing Puritan ranks, but apparently and rightly, Herrick felt no shame.

When the civil war ended transferring power to the Puritans, Robert Herrick was dismissed and he returned to London where he finally published the results of all his west country writing in 1648. The volume had two titles- Hesperides and Noble Numbers. The latter were dedicated more to sacred themes in relation to the former. In fact it was his life's work. Over fourteen hundred poems in one plump volume.

The serious, puritanical times were hardly conducive to any success of Herrick's published work. His light touch and humour were more or less dismissed, along with him at that time, as trivial. It was not before the restoration of King Charles in 1660, that the minister poet found some favour and was allowed to return to Dean Prior where he lived peacefully for the rest of his life, reaching the respectable age of eighty three before he died.

Here are four examples that emphasise his remarkable contemporaneity, endearing mischievousness, and lightness. A lightness however, which is often more profound that it might first appear to be.

The Vine

I dreamed this mortal part of mine
Was metamorphosed to a vine,
Which, crawling one and every way,
Enthralled my dainty Lucia.
Methought, her long small legs and thighs
I with my tendrils did surprise;
Her belly, buttocks, and her waist
By my soft nervelets were embraced.
About her head I writhing hung,
And with rich clusters (hid among
The leaves) her temples I behung,
So that my Lucia seemed to me
Young Bacchus ravished by his tree.
My curls about her neck did crawl,
And arms 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 unespied,
Such fleeting pleasures there I took
That with the fancy I awoke,
And found (ah me) this flesh of mine
More like a stock than like a vine.

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying,
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow 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.

Upon the Nipples of Julia's Breast

Have ye beheld (with much delight)
A red rose peeping through a white?
Or else a cherry (double graced)
Within a lily center-placed?
Or ever marked the pretty beam
A strawberry shows half drowned in cream?
Or seen rich rubies blushing through
A pure smooth pearl, and orient too?
So like to this, nay all the rest,
Is each neat niplet of her breast.

         Upon Jack and Jill. Epigram*            

When Jill complains to Jack for want of meat,
Jack kisses Jill, and bids her freely eat.
Jill says, Of what? Says Jack, On that sweet kiss,
Which full of nectar and ambrosia is,
The food of poets. So I thought, says Jill;
That makes them look so lank, so ghost-like still.
Let poets feed on air or what they will;
Let me feed full till that I fart, says Jill. 
*Jonson- On Giles and Joan
Intro text and image (last rose of the year) © Mirino. Source- The Norton Anthology English Literature Volume 1, Poems of Robert Herrick. With thanks. November, 2011

No comments: