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Archive for the ‘Robert Herrick’ Category

poem is on left-hand white post

 

from “Corinna’s Gone A-Maying”

by Robert Herrick

 

Get up! get up for shame! The blooming morn

Upon her wings presents the god unshorn.

See how Aurora throws her fair

Fresh-quilted colours through the air:

Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see

The dew bespangling herb and tree!

 

 

For the final installment of the Bedtime Series, the other side of the mattress. Time to get up and face the day, because poet Robert Herrick has a lot of beauty to lay before us—

 

See how Aurora throws her fair  

Fresh-quilted colours through the air

 

But first, a word in support of us night-owls. Shame has been heaped upon us since childhood. Unfair that early risers aren’t yelled at by their mothers,

 

Stay up! stay up, for shame!

Shame on you, going to bed before ten!

 

No, the early bird, worm in beak, gets accolades for industry. And just because we night-owls miss out on sunrises, everyone assumes we’re lazy.

 

That has nothing to do with “Corinna’s Gone A-Maying,” which is a one of those carpe diem poems where men nag women to have sex with them. Later in the poem (full text below), after much gorgeous language and clever argument, Herrick pulls out the stops—

 

Come, let us goe, while we are in our prime;

And take the harmlesse follie of the time.

                     We shall grow old apace, and die

                     Before we know our liberty.

                     Our life is short; and our dayes run

                     As fast away as do’s the Sunne

 

Tricky little bastard, isn’t he. Get out of bed, he says to poor sleepy Corinna, so we can go back to bed.

 

I left the poem fragment early one morning (early for me that is, round about nine-thirty) at the entrance to a kids’ summer camp. I was thinking of the slug-a-beds who feel as poet Charles Simic does (from the poem “Summer Morning”)—

 

I love to stay in bed

All morning

 

sentiments which if expressed would drive a camp counselor to whip off the covers and shake a body; and if said counselor happened to have encountered the Corinna poem fragment, to shout the opening lines.

 

But this is a case of my imagination overtaking good judgment. This poem-elfing was a flop. It’s always a terrible idea to post a poem fragment instead of a poem in its entirety—lines taken out of context can be misconstrued and misused as we see here—but that’s the least of it. Putting a poem about sex at a kids’ camp is plain creepy. What can I say. At least the camp is closed for COVID-19 and only a stray walker will encounter Herrick’s racy little poem.

 

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Robert Herrick (1591-1674) was born in London, the seventh child of a goldsmith. When he was a baby his father fell out of a window, probably intentionally, and died. At age 16 he apprenticed with an uncle to follow in his father’s profession. Later he  went to Cambridge, became a clergyman at country vicarage, and served for many years until he was removed from his post because of his Royalist sympathies. With the ascension of Charles II to the throne fifteen years later, Herrick was re-instated.

 

In 1648 he published his one and only collection of verse, Hesperides. It was a massive volume with over 1,000 poems.

 

Herrick was a lifelong bachelor. The women to whom he addressed his love poems, Corrina among them, are thought to be fictional. He died at age 83.

 

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Corinna’s Gone A-Maying
by Robert Herrick
Get up, get up for shame, the Blooming Morne
Upon her wings presents the god unshorne.
                     See how Aurora throwes her faire
                     Fresh-quilted colours through the aire:
                     Get up, sweet-Slug-a-bed, and see
                     The Dew-bespangling Herbe and Tree.
Each Flower has wept, and bow’d toward the East,
Above an houre since; yet you not drest,
                     Nay! not so much as out of bed?
                     When all the Birds have Mattens seyd,
                     And sung their thankful Hymnes: ’tis sin,
                     Nay, profanation to keep in,
When as a thousand Virgins on this day,
Spring, sooner than the Lark, to fetch in May.
Rise; and put on your Foliage, and be seene
To come forth, like the Spring-time, fresh and greene;
                     And sweet as Flora. Take no care
                     For Jewels for your Gowne, or Haire:
                     Feare not; the leaves will strew
                     Gemms in abundance upon you:
Besides, the childhood of the Day has kept,
Against you come, some Orient Pearls unwept:
                     Come, and receive them while the light
                     Hangs on the Dew-locks of the night:
                     And Titan on the Eastern hill
                     Retires himselfe, or else stands still
Till you come forth. Wash, dresse, be briefe in praying:
Few Beads are best, when once we goe a Maying.
Come, my Corinna, come; and comming, marke
How each field turns a street; each street a Parke
                     Made green, and trimm’d with trees: see how
                     Devotion gives each House a Bough,
                     Or Branch: Each Porch, each doore, ere this,
                     An Arke a Tabernacle is
Made up of white-thorn neatly enterwove;
As if here were those cooler shades of love.
                     Can such delights be in the street,
                     And open fields, and we not see’t?
                     Come, we’ll abroad; and let’s obay
                     The Proclamation made for May:
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;
But my Corinna, come, let’s goe a Maying.
There’s not a budding Boy, or Girle, this day,
But is got up, and gone to bring in May.
                     A deale of Youth, ere this, is come
                     Back, and with White-thorn laden home.
                     Some have dispatcht their Cakes and Creame,
                     Before that we have left to dreame:
And some have wept, and woo’d, and plighted Troth,
And chose their Priest, ere we can cast off sloth:
                     Many a green-gown has been given;
                     Many a kisse, both odde and even:
                     Many a glance too has been sent
                     From out the eye, Loves Firmament:
Many a jest told of the Keyes betraying
This night, and Locks pickt, yet w’are not a Maying.
Come, let us goe, while we are in our prime;
And take the harmlesse follie of the time.
                     We shall grow old apace, and die
                     Before we know our liberty.
                     Our life is short; and our dayes run
                     As fast away as do’s the Sunne:
And as a vapour, or a drop of raine
Once lost, can ne’r be found againe:
                     So when or you or I are made
                     A fable, song, or fleeting shade;
                     All love, all liking, all delight
                     Lies drown’d with us in endlesse night.
Then while time serves, and we are but decaying;
Come, my Corinna, come, let’s goe a Maying.

 

 

 

 

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poem is on fence post

Delight in Disorder

by Robert Herrick

 

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

Ribands 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.

 

 

Poet Robert Herrick’s disheveled object of desire is my sartorial soulmate.  I’ve always thought a woman as loosely dressed as she is, with shoelaces flapping, ribbons untied, and underwear bunching out of a skirt—was more attractive than the starched and pressed variety.  Unfortunately, my own disorder in the dress is somewhat less bewitching than Herrick’s gal, and runs more along the lines of panty lines and perspiration stains. Herrick would have a time of it if he had to write a sonnet about my grooming habits.  Woman, get a hold of thyself!  he might begin.

 

 

To picture the dishabille of Herrick’s lady, a short tutorial on women’s fashions of the day might be helpful. In the early 17th century, women’s clothing relaxed.  Stiff lace collars and heavy fabrics softened.  Wrists were visible through sleeves, and skirts were lifted, tied up with ribbons to show petticoats.  The stomacher was a panel in the center of a dress, from neckline to waist, holding the two sides of the dress together.  It was either sewn in or tied with criss-crossing ribbons.  The lawn was a fine linen put over the shoulders and tucked into a bodice to cover up décolletage to the degree a lady wished.

 

Although he’s too much a gentleman to come out and say it, here’s what Herrick is hoping for:  with the lace of her stomacher out of place and the lawn so carelessly thrown, he’ll get a good gander at her lady lumps.  Of course he says that much more elegantly.  In any age, even ours, wantonness sounds better than horny.

 

What’s interesting is that wantonness is kindled not in the poet or in the wearer of the clothing, but in the clothes themselves:

A sweet disorder in the dress

Kindles in clothes a wantonness

It’s as if the clothes act independently to seduce Herrick.  The lace enthralls, the cuff distracts, the ribbons are confused, the petticoat tempestuous.  Such a conceit avoids impugning the virtue of the lady and forms a defense as old as mankind:  Her clothes made me do it!

 

 

Most times when I poem-elf I have particular reason for matching poem to place.  Other times there’s no discernable connection:  the choice is instinctual, whimsical, hurried.  This posting fits into the second category.  I left “Delight in Disorder” on the fence post of an urban garden in Detroit’s midtown, a few blocks from the Detroit Institute of Arts.  It’s 2011 and Detroit is facing bankruptcy.  Why leave there a poem  about 17th century ladies’ fashion written at the time Woodward Avenue was still an Indian trail and French explorers were giving Detroit its name?

 

The truth: I was rushing out the door and grabbed the poem from a pile (yes, I have piles of poems) for no reason other than it pleased me.  It’s a joyful expression of lust and beauty and art.  It’s lively and lovely.  It sparkles.   It’s a poem about imperfection that’s perfect in every way.

 

Lovely and sparkle and perfect aren’t words most folks associate with Detroit.  More likely, decay and blight.  Detroit is, after all, number one on CNBC’s List of 20 Cities You Don’t Want to Live In.  It’s a place to film post-apocalyptic movies.  Some see it as a modern-day ruin.  Photographers have flocked here to capture the city’s decline in surrealistic images.

 

But Detroit was once called “The Paris of the Midwest,” silly as that seems now.  And loveliness is still here, in parts, if you look for it.  For every ruin in Detroit, there’s an anti-ruin.  Midtown, for instance.  The DIA.  The Opera House, Fisher Theater and dozens of other architectural jewels.  Tree-lined neighborhoods. Restaurants new and trendy and restaurants ancient.  Ordinary people and glitzy ones, artists, dreamers, and good, kind people who won’t give up on the city they love.

 

Maybe if we borrowed a few terms from Herrick we could see Detroit in a different light.  Instead of urban decay, think wild civility.  Replace post-industrial ruins with a sweet disorder in the dress.  The suburbs, in comparison, seem too precise in every part, predictable and decidedly non-bewitching.

 

Not to get too precious about it.  People have to live here and no one wants to live in ruins.  Disorder is none too sweet when trash pick-up is unreliable and the building next door is abandoned and crumbling.  And the future surely does look bleak.  Without massive budget cuts and layoffs, Detroit will be out of money by April. Some of those laid off will be firefighters and police, and some of the cuts will be to the DIA and other cultural institutions.  State intervention seems likely.

 

Still, it never hurts to point out the lovely when you see it.  This hopeful little garden, unruly but productive, is a corner of the city worth appreciating.  Leaving the poem here was like reminding a blotchy-faced teen of the loveliness within, a loveliness that someday soon will show on the outside .

 

Robert Herrick (1591-1674) was born in London, the seventh child of a goldsmith.  When Herrick was still a baby, his father jumped out a window and died. (Early death of a parent is beginning to seem a pre-requisite for the poetic life.)  Herrick was apprenticed to a goldsmith but quit after six years.  He finished his education at Cambridge and took holy orders.  At late age of 39 he was assigned to a rural parish, and worked the rest of his life as a country parson.   I can’t find a good picture of him, but picture Gabe Kaplan of Welcome Back Kotter in breeches.

 

Herrick addressed 148 poems to various mistresses, but the consensus is that these women were fictional.  He never married and died unknown as a poet.  His poetry was resurrected in 19th century, over one hundred years after his death, and today he’s widely read and anthologized.

 

Let’s hope Detroit’s resurrection happens a lot quicker.

 

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