Robert Herrick (poet)

Robert Herrick (baptised 24 August 1591–buried 15 October 1674)[1] was a 17th-century English lyric poet and cleric. He is best known for Hesperides, a book of poems. This includes the carpe diem poem "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time", with the first line "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may".

Robert Herrick
Herrick, 1904 illustration
Herrick, 1904 illustration
Bornbaptised (1591-08-24)24 August 1591
Cheapside, London, England
Diedburied 15 October 1674(1674-10-15) (aged 83)
Dean Prior, Devon, England
OccupationPoet and cleric
LanguageEarly Modern English
Alma materSt John's College, Cambridge
Notable works"To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time"

Early lifeEdit

Born in Cheapside, London, he was the seventh child and fourth son of Julia Stone and Nicholas Herrick, a prosperous goldsmith.[2] He was named for his uncle, Robert Herrick (or Heyrick), a prosperous MP for Leicester, who had bought the land Greyfriars Abbey stood on after its dissolution. Nicholas Herrick died in a fall from a fourth-floor window in November 1592, when Robert was a year old (whether this was suicide remains unclear).[3] 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.[4] It is more likely that (like his uncle's children) he attended The Merchant Taylors' School. In 1607 he became apprenticed to his other uncle, Sir William Herrick, 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.[5] He became a member of the Sons of Ben, a group centered upon an admiration for the works of Ben Jonson.[3] Herrick wrote at least five poems to Jonson. Herrick was ordained in 1623 and in 1629 became the vicar of Dean Prior in Devonshire.[2]

Civil WarEdit

In 1647, in the wake of the English Civil War, Herrick was ejected from his vicarage for refusing the Solemn League and Covenant.[6] 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 lifeEdit

When King Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, Herrick petitioned for his own restoration to his living. He had obtained favour by writing 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 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.[7]

Poetic style and statureEdit

Title page of Hesperides (1648)

Herrick wrote over 2,500 poems, about half of which appear in his major work, Hesperides.[6] Hesperides also includes the much shorter Noble Numbers, his first book, of spiritual works, first published in 1648. 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 of a more 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'.[8]

Herrick never married, and none of his love-poems seems to connect directly with any one 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's 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 19th century, and have been regularly printed ever since.[9]

The Victorian poet Swinburne described Herrick as "the greatest song writer ever born of English race".[10] Despite his use of classical allusions and names, Herrick's poems are easier for modern readers to understand than those of many of his contemporaries.

In fictionEdit

Robert Herrick is the subject of James Branch Cabell's "Concerning Corrina," published in Cabell's 1916 short story volume The Certain Hour: Dizain des Poëtes. The story more than suggests that the poet was an adept of the dark arts. Though technically a mystery-horror story, it is best categorized as a philosophical comedy.

Robert Herrick is a major character in Rose Macaulay's 1932 historical novel They Were Defeated.

In Samuel Beckett’s play Happy Days, the character Winnie quotes from Herrick’s “To the Virgins to Make Much of Time.”[11][12]

In Ken Bruen's debut novel Rilke on Black, Herrick's two-line poem "Dreams" is a favorite of the protagonist Nick.

Robert Herrick is one of many historical characters in the alternate history series 1632.

The dedication in Thomas Burnett Swann's Will-o-the-Wisp (1976 - ISBN 9780552103589) is "A novel suggested by the life of Robert Herrick, poet, vicar, and pagan", the novel opens with a letter of denunciation of the new vicar Robert Herrick for consorting with Gubbings.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Gosse, Edmund (1911). "Robert Herrick". Encyclopædia Britannica. Volume XIII (11th ed.). New York. pp. 389–390. The source given for this encyclopedia article is Moorman, Frederic William (1910). Robert Herrick: A Biographical and Critical Study. London, Edinburgh and New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons.
  2. ^ a b "Robert Herrick,", Academy of American Poets, Web, 20 May 2011.
  3. ^ a b "Robert Herrick,", Web, 20 May 2011.
  4. ^ Pollard, Alfred (1898). "Life of Herrick". Works of Robert Herrick: The Hesperides and Noble Numbers. London: George Routledge and Sons (The Muses' Library). pp. xvii.
  5. ^ "Herrick, Robert (HRK613R)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  6. ^ a b "Robert Herrick,", Web, 20 May 2011.
  7. ^ Ben Jonson and the Cavalier Poets, ed. Hugh Maclean (New York: Norton, 1974), p. 106.
  8. ^ Pulgrave F. P. Preface – A Selection of Lyrical Poems 1876
  9. ^ Bullen, Arthur Henry (1891). "Herrick, Robert" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 26. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  10. ^ Ray, Mohit K. (2007). The Atlantic companion to literature in English. New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers & Distributors. p. 245. ISBN 8126908327
  11. ^ Beckett, Samuel (2010). Happy Days. New York: Grove Press. p. 66. ISBN 9780802144409.
  12. ^ Knowlson, James (1985). Happy Days: The Production Notebook of Samuel Beckett. London: Faber and Faber. pp. 148–9.

Further readingEdit

  • Elizabeth H. Hageman, Robert Herrick: A Reference Guide (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1983).
  • George Walton Scott, Robert Herrick, 1591–1674 (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1974).
  • Gordon Braden, "Robert Herrick and Classical Lyric Poetry," in his The Classics and English Renaissance Poetry: Three Case Studies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978), pp. 154–254.
  • Ann Baynes Coiro, Robert Herrick's "Hesperides" and the Epigram Book Tradition (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988).
  • Robert L. Deming, Ceremony and Art: Robert Herrick's Poetry (The Hague & Paris: Mouton, 1974).
  • T. S. Eliot, "What Is Minor Poetry?," in his On Poetry and Poets (New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1957), pp. 34–51.
  • Achsah Guibbory, "Robert Herrick: 'Repullulation' and the Cyclical Order," in her The Map of Time: Seventeenth-Century English Literature and Ideas of Pattern in History (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986), pp. 137–167.
  • John L. Kimmey, "Order and Form in Herrick's Hesperides," Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 70 (Spring 1971): 255–268.
  • Kimmey, "Robert Herrick's Persona," Studies in Philology, 67 (April 1970): 221–236.
  • Kimmey, "Robert Herrick's Satirical Epigrams," English Studies, 51 (August 1970): 312–323.
  • F. W. Moorman, Robert Herrick: A Biographical and Critical Study (London: John Lane, 1910; New York: Russell & Russell, 1962).
  • S. Musgrove, The Universe of Robert Herrick, Auckland University College Bulletin, no. 38, English Series, no. 4 (Auckland: Pelorus Press, 1958).
  • Roger B. Rollin and J. Max Patrick, eds., "Trust to Good Verses": Herrick Tercentenary Essays (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1978).
  • Louise Schleiner, "Herrick's Songs and the Character of "Hesperides," English Literary Renaissance, 6 (Winter 1976): 77–91.
  • Claude J. Summers, "Herrick's Political Counter-plots," SEL: Studies in English Literature 1500–1900, 25 (Winter 1985): 165–182.
  • Harold Toliver, "Herrick's Book of Realms and Moments," English Literary History, 49 (Summer 1982): 429–448.
  • Thomas R. Whitaker, "Herrick and the Fruits of the Garden," English Literary History, 22 (March 1955): 16–33

External linksEdit