Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Corinna’s Going A-Maying” draws extensively from elements of pastoral and carpe diem poetry. Both types of poetry tend to be dramatic, spoken by a lover to his beloved. Pastoral literature envisages an ideal world of nature far removed from the transitory one of human experience, a world of youthful lovers. In the evergreen pastoral world, golden lads and girls do not “As chimney-sweepers come to dust,” as a song in William Shakespeare’s Cymbeline (c. 1609-1610) says. Christopher Marlowe’s“The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” describes such a happy world, one which Sir Walter Raleigh later debunks in “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd.”

Carpe diem poetry was developed by Horace in pre-Christian Rome. Carpe diem is Latin for “seize the day,” and poetry that advanced this theme became extremely popular in the strife-torn England of the seventeenth century. Carpe diem poetry always expresses the philosophy of “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Time is fleeting, life is short, and beyond this life lies only the darkness of eternity. Since there is no afterlife in this philosophy of hedonism, the pleasures of earthly existence become all important. It is doubtful that Robert Herrick, an Anglican priest, literally subscribed to the tenets of hedonism. It makes more sense to regard this poem and his “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” as literary exercises or, at...

(The entire section is 406 words.)