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THE POETRY OF ROBERT HERRICK

Robert Herrick, the great 17th century poet, was ordained in the Church of England on 25 April 1623. He arrived in Devon to become vicar of Dean Prior in 1630 where he remained until 1647 when he was expelled from his living by the Puritans. He returned to Dean Prior in 1662 after the restoration of the Monarchy, dying there 15 October 1674.

 

Herrick, who was born in 1591, lived in turbulent times which may explain why his creative period ended so abruptly with the publication of his only book in 1648. This was shortly after he was dispossessed of his living  in the parish of Dean Prior by the Puritans who were angered by his continued support for King Charles I. We have very few records of the events of his early life beyond the 1403 poems published under the title Hesperides: or the Works both Humane and Divine of Robert Herrick Esq. 

 

If you think you have never heard of him, then read some of Robert Herrick's poems - not an onerous task because few of them are very long and some are extremely short - and you will be struck by how familiar  they seem today. Words and phrases he composed almost 400 years ago leap off the pages as old friends -  none more familiar than the first tiny poem which perhaps we did not even know to be a poem:

NO PAINS, NO GAINS
by Robert Herrick

 

IF little labour, little are our gains :
Man's fortunes are according to his pains.

 

TO THE VIRGINS, TO MAKE MUCH OF TIME

by Robert Herrick

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
You may for ever tarry.

A project attempting to date each poem  and, possibly, to ascertain where Herrick was when he wrote it, is underway, sponsored by the Oxford University Press. Of interest to local people in Devon will be the knowledge that so many poems were directly influenced by his first 17-year stay in Devon. (Hesperides, his volume of collected works)was published before he returned to Dean Prior). Herrick made no secret of the fact that he did not much like Devon or the village  of Den Prior or its inhabitants.

DISCONTENTS IN DEVON

by Robert Herrick

More discontents I never had

Since I was born than here,

Where I have been, and still am sad

In this dull Devonshire; 

Yet, justly too, I must confess

I ne'er invented such

Ennobled numbers for the press,

Than where I loathed so much.

A GOOD HUSBAND
by Robert Herrick


A MASTER of a house, as I have read,
Must be the first man up, and last in bed.
With the sun rising he must walk his grounds ;
See that, view that, and all the other bounds :
Shut every gate ; mend every hedge that's torn,
Either with old, or plant therein new thorn ;
Tread o'er his glebe, but with such care, that where
He sets his foot, he leaves rich compost there.

UPON AN OLD MAN :  A RESIDENTIARY*
by Robert Herrick

TREAD, sirs, as lightly as ye can
Upon the grave of this old man.
Twice forty, bating but one year
And thrice three weeks, he lived here.
Whom gentle fate translated hence
To a more happy residence.
Yet, reader, let me tell thee this,
Which from his ghost a promise is,
If here ye will some few tears shed,
He'll never haunt ye now he's dead.

*Residentiary, A life-long inhabitant.


Dean Prior Vicarage c.1910

Dean Prior Vicarage and church c. 1910

One hundred years after this photograph was taken, the  traffic of the A38 constantly roars past the rear of these buildings, within just a few feet of  the lych gate of the church and the house.

 

The tiny vicarage which was home to Robert Herrick can just be seen at the rear of the house on the left. Here he lived with Tracie,  his spaniel, a pet sparrow and Prue, his maid - "by good  luck sent".

Some time after Prue's death, he wrote:

"In this little urne is laid

Prewdence Baldwin (once my maid)

From whose happy spark here let

Spring the purple violet."

After the death of his spaniel, he wrote

"Now thou art dead, no eye shall ever see
For shape and service, spaniell like to thee."

blablaEpitaph on Prew Baldwin in Dean Prior Church

Epitaph on Prewdence Baldwin, once Herriot's maid.

©Richard J. Brine

If you would like to read more of Herrick's poetry, go to

http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/herrick/herribib.htm

 

 

 
 
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