Friday, May 12, 2006


Comments on a post that I found in the most recent Teaching Carnival have started me thinking about the love poetry of Robert Herrick, which is an interesting set of poems to read. Some of the poems are quite striking:

The Rainbow, Or Curious Covenant

Mine eyes, like clouds, were drizzling rain ;
And as they thus did entertain
The gentle beams from Julia's sight
To mine eyes levell'd opposite,
O thing admir'd ! there did appear
A curious rainbow smiling there ;
Which was the covenant that she
No more would drown mine eyes or me.

Others strike the ear as odd, not because they are bad poetry, but because we moderns have no real sense of imagery:

Her Legs

Fain would I kiss my Julia's dainty leg,
Which is as white and hairless as an egg.

Which, it must be admitted, is a nice attribute for a leg to have; but it reminds one of the Song of Songs, where the woman has teeth like a herd of wet sheep. The imagery is perfect, as far as it goes; but we just don't have any real sense for it, so it sounds hilarious.

Some of the poems, of course, are just a tad silly, and probably deliberately so:

Upon Julia's Breasts

Display thy breasts, my Julia—there let me
Behold that circummortal purity,
Between whose glories there my lips I'll lay,
Ravish'd in that fair via lactea.

That could scarcely be said with straight face unless it were said as at least half a joke. There are several poems like this; more like cleverly expressed bawdy jokes than anything else. Others are more sensual:

Upon Julia's Breath

Breathe, Julia, breathe, and I'll protest,
Nay more, I'll deeply swear,
That all the spices of the east
Are circumfused there.

And still others mix the sensual and the bawdy:

The Vine

I dream'd this mortal part of mine
Was Metamorphoz'd to a Vine;
Which crawling one and every way,
Enthrall'd my dainty Lucia.
Me thought, her long small legs & thighs
I with my Tendrils did surprize;
Her Belly, Buttocks, and her Waste
By my soft Nerv'lits were embrac'd:
About her head I writhing hung,
And with rich clusters (hid among
The leaves) her temples I behung:
So that my Lucia seem'd to me
Young Bacchus ravished by his tree.
My curles about her neck did craule,
And armes 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 unespy'd,
Such fleeting pleasures there I took,
That with the fancie I awook;
And found (Ah me!) this flesh of mine
More like a Stock then like a Vine.

But others are sweeter and gentler:

Another Upon Her Weeping

She by the river sat, and sitting there,
She wept, and made it deeper by a tear.

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