Robert Herrick (poet)
||This article possibly contains original research. (April 2013)|
Robert Herrick, 1904 illustration based on Hesperides impression
24 August 1591|
Cheapside, London, England
|Died||buried 15 October 1674
Dean Prior, Devon, England
|Occupation||Poet and cleric|
Robert Herrick (baptised 24 August 1591 – buried 15 October 1674) was a 17th-century English lyric poet and cleric. He is best known for his book of poems, Hesperides. This includes the carpe diem poem To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time, with the first line Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.
Born in Cheapside, London, he was the seventh child and fourth son of Julia Stone and Nicholas Herrick, a prosperous goldsmith. His father died in a fall from a fourth-floor window in November 1592, when Robert was a year old (whether this was suicide remains unclear). The tradition that Herrick received his education at Westminster is based on the words "beloved Westminster" in his poem Tears to Thamesis, but the allusion is to the city, not the school. It is more likely that (like his uncle's children) he attended The Merchant Taylors' School. In 1607 he became apprenticed to his uncle, Sir William Herrick, who was a goldsmith and jeweler to the king. The apprenticeship ended after only six years when Herrick, at age twenty-two, matriculated at St John's College, Cambridge. He later migrated to Trinity Hall graduating in 1617. Robert Herrick became a member of the Sons of Ben, a group centered upon an admiration for the works of Ben Jonson. Herrick wrote at least five poems to Jonson. Herrick was ordained in 1623 and in 1629 became the vicar of Dean Prior in Devonshire.
In 1647, in the wake of the English Civil War, Herrick was ejected from his vicarage for refusing the Solemn League and Covenant. He then returned to London, living in Westminster and depending on the charity of his friends and family. He spent some time preparing his lyric poems for publication, and had them printed in 1648 under the title Hesperides; or the Works both Human and Divine of Robert Herrick, with a dedication to the Prince of Wales.
Restoration and later life
When King Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, Herrick petitioned for his own restoration to his living. Perhaps King Charles felt kindly towards this genial man, who had written verses celebrating the births of both Charles II and his brother James before the Civil War. Herrick became the vicar of Dean Prior again in the summer of 1662 and lived there until his death in October 1674, at the ripe age of 83. His date of death is not known, but he was buried on 15 October. Herrick was a bachelor all his life, and many of the women he names in his poems are thought to be fictional.
Poetic style and stature
Herrick wrote over 2,500 poems, about half of which appear in his major work, Hesperides. Hesperides also includes the much shorter Noble Numbers, his first book, of spiritual works, first published in 1647. He is well known for his style and, in his earlier works, for frequent references to lovemaking and the female body. His later poetry was more of a spiritual and philosophical nature. Among his most famous short poetical sayings are the unique monometers, such as number 475, "Thus I / Pass by / And die,/ As one / Unknown / And gone."
Herrick sets out his subject-matter in the poem he printed at the beginning of his collection, The Argument of his Book. He dealt with English country life and its seasons, village customs, complimentary poems to various ladies and his friends, themes taken from classical writings and a solid bedrock of Christian faith, not intellectualized but underpinning the rest. It has been said of Herrick's style 'his directness of speech with clear and simple presentation of thought, a fine artist working with conscious knowledge of his art, of an England of his youth in which he lives and moves and loves, clearly assigns him to the first place as a lyrical poet in the strict and pure sense of the phrase'.
Herrick never married, and none of his love-poems seem to connect directly with any one beloved woman. He loved the richness of sensuality and the variety of life, and this is shown vividly in such poems as Cherry-ripe, Delight in Disorder and Upon Julia’s Clothes.
The over-riding message of Herrick’s work is that life is short, the world is beautiful, love is splendid, and we must use the short time we have to make the most of it. This message can be seen clearly in To the Virgins, to make much of Time; To Daffodils; To Blossoms; and Corinna going a-Maying, where the warmth and exuberance of what seems to have been a kindly and jovial personality comes over strongly.
The opening stanza in one of his more famous poems, "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time", is as follows:
- Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
- Old Time is still a-flying;
- And this same flower that smiles today,
- Tomorrow will be dying.
This poem is an example of the carpe diem genre; the popularity of Herrick's poems of this kind helped revive the genre.
His poems were not widely popular at the time they were published. His style was strongly influenced by Ben Jonson, by the classical Roman writers, and by the poems of the late Elizabethan era. This must have seemed quite old-fashioned to an audience whose tastes were tuned to the complexities of the metaphysical poets such as John Donne and Andrew Marvell. His works were rediscovered in the early nineteenth century, and have been regularly printed ever since.
The Victorian poet Swinburne described Herrick as the greatest song writer...ever born of English race. It is certainly true that despite his use of classical allusions and names, his poems are easier for modern readers to understand than those of many of his contemporaries.
- Herrick,Robert & Pulgrave F .T .(ed) A Selection of Lyrical poems, ISBN 1419103199, Kindle ebook May 2012
- Gosse, Edmund (1911). "Robert Herrick". Encyclopædia Britannica. Volume XIII (11th ed.). New York: Encyclopædia Britannica. pp. 389–390. The source given for this encyclopedia article is Moorman, Frederic William (1910). Robert Herrick: A Biographical and Critical Study. T. Nelson.
- "Robert Herrick," Poets.org, Academy of American Poets, Web, May 20, 2011.
- "Robert Herrick," Luminarium.org, Web, May 20, 2011.
- Pollard, Alfred (n.s. (c. 1900)). "Life of Herrick". Works of Robert Herrick: The Hesperides and Noble Numbers. London: George Routledge and Sons (The Muses' Library). pp. xvii.
- "Herrick, Robert (HRK613R)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- "Robert Herrick," EnglishVerse.com, Web, May 20, 2011.
- Ben Jonson and the Cavalier Poets, ed. Hugh Maclean (New York: Norton, 1974), p. 106.
- Pulgrave F. P. Preface - A Selection of Lyrical Poems 1876
- Bullen, Arthur Henry (1891). "Herrick, Robert". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography 26. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
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- Robert, 1591-1674 Works by Robert Herrick at Project Gutenberg
- Project Gutenberg e-text: Chrysomela: A Selection from the Lyrical Poems of Robert Herrick
- Upon Kings. Poems Upon Several Personages of Honour …
- The Complete Poetry of Robert Herrick (with full biography) Site at Newcastle University for the new edition of Herrick's Poetry