Friday, June 22, 2007

Summer reading: The Complete Poetry of Robert Herrick

So, a while back I saw a CFP for a conference about [major theme of my dissertation] in the works of Robert Herrick. OK, I thought. I like Herrick. I've never written anything about Herrick, but I'm sure I could. Maybe I'll just get the complete works out of the library and see what grabs me.

1,402 poems later, I have reached two conclusions: 1) Herrick wrote a heck of a lot more poems about farting and body odor than I'd ever realized (neither of these is the subject of my dissertation); 2) I don't, actually, know what I would say if I were going to write an essay about Herrick. With a few obvious exceptions such as "Corinna" and "The Hock-Cart," which I expect everyone will write about, he just doesn't seem to lend himself to analysis -- at least, not for me. But he is a delight.

So, a random selection of lesser-known Herrick, without commentary.

Upon Pink an ill-fac'd Painter. Epigram.

To paint the Fiend, Pink would the Devill see;
And so he may, if he'll be rul'd by me:
Let but Pink's face i'th'Looking-glasse be showne,
And Pink may paint the Devill's by his owne.

The parting verse, the feast there ended

Loth to depart, but yet at last, each one
Back must now go to's habitation:
Not knowing thus much, when we once do sever,
Whether or no, that we shall meet here ever.
And for my self, since time a thousand cares
And griefs hath fil'de upon my silver hairs;
'Tis to be doubted whether I next yeer,
Or no, shall give ye a re-meeting here.
If die I must, then my last vow shall be,
You'l with a tear or two, remember me,
Your sometime Poet; but if fates do give
Me longer date, and more fresh springs to live:
Oft as your field, shall her old age renew,
Herrick shall make the meddow-verse for you.


Wantons we are; and though our words be such,
Our Lives do differ from our Lines by much.

Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve

Down with the Rosemary, and so
Down with the Baies, & misletoe:
Down with the Holly, Ivie, all,
Wherewith ye drest the Christmas Hall:
That so the superstitious find
Not one least Branch there left behind:
For look how many leaves there be
Neglected there (maids trust to me)
So many Goblins you shall see.

The Bell-man

Along the dark, and silent night,
With my Lantern, and my Light,
And the tinkling of my Bell,
Thus I walk, and this I tell:
Death and dreadfullnesse call on,
To the gen'rall Session;
To whose dismal Barre, we there
All accompts must come to cleeere:
Scores of sins w'ave made her many,
Wip't out few, (God knowes) if any.
Rise ye Debters then, and fall
To make paiement, while I call.
Ponder this, when I am gone;
By the clock 'tis almost One.

According to one of my instructors in undergrad, who was a fountain of seventeenth-century gossip, Herrick kept a pet pig that drank beer. This has nothing to do with anything, but it makes me happy.


Bardiac said...

I think Herrick would have been great fun to share a good dinner with. Ben Jonson, too.

I love teaching "The Vine." The surprise of the "ah me" just cracks me up.

Fretful Porpentine said...

Oh yes. Jonson is at the very top of my "Dead people I'd like to invite to dinner" list.

Anonymous said...

I'd completely forgotten the Candlemas poem, though I read it ages ago, in an anthology called (I think) 'The Secret Christmas' which was sold to raise money for Crisis at Christmas, and which was packed full of obscure, good poetry for the 'extended' Christmas season, i.e. Advent to Candlemas. Thanks for reminding me of it!

Fretful Porpentine said...

The Candlemas poem was a new one for me, but I enjoyed it a lot.

Anonymous said...

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Fretful Porpentine said...

Sorry, I don't speak Portuguese and I don't think I really need a T-shirt :)

Anonymous said...

I was searching for the Candlemas poem, and found it here first.

With respect to Herrick's beer-drinking pig, Robert Graves discusses the fact in The White Goddess. According to Graves: "My thesis is that the language of poetic myth anciently current in the Mediterranean and Northern Europe was a magical language bound up with popular religious ceremonies in honour of the Moon-goddess, or Muse, some of them dating from the Old Stone Age, and that this remains the language of true poetry...." (pp 9-10).

Regarding Herrick, Graves states that he "proved his devotion to poetic myth by pouring libations of Devonshire barley-ale from a silver cup to a pampered white pig." (pp. 425-6).

The symbolism is thus: The pig was one of the sacred animals of the Moon Goddess (let's call her Demeter for now); one of her sacred colors was white (the color of the moon); her sacred metal was silver (the metal associated with the moon); and Demeter was also the goddess of crops, especially barley, hence the libation of barley-ale (beer).

So it is really not correct to say that "this has nothing to do with anything," but it should still make you happy.