The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The title of this poem is particularly interesting in that it asserts unequivocably that Corinna will take part in the activities of May morning, although there is no certainty in the text that she will do so. The poem is a dramatic monologue, with the lover-speaker seeking to persuade his sweetheart to get out of bed and join the other youths “to fetch in May.” Her reactions to his entreaties are unrecorded. She remains no more than a name, as the interest of the poem resides in the speaker’s rhetorical strategies to work his will upon her.

The opening words, “Get up! get up for shame!” are jarring, as if he is trying to startle her into wakefulness, but the tone softens with “Get up, sweet slug-a-bed.” The burden of his argument in the first stanza is that it is “sin” and “profanation” to stay indoors when “a thousand virgins on this day/ Spring, sooner than the lark, to fetch in May.”

In the second stanza, the lover’s tone changes perceptibly. Harsh urgency gives way to soft flattery, as indicated by the sibilance of the lines. Do not bother with jewels, the lover argues, since nature will make you as sweet as the goddess of flowers herself. Even Titan is standing still as he awaits her entrance into the natural world. The last line of this stanza (“Few beads are best when once we go a-Maying”) shows the lover’s wit and ambiguity. The line is certainly a cavalier allusion to Puritanism as a religion of...

(The entire section is 492 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Corinna’s Going A-Maying” consists of five stanzas of fourteen lines. It is written in rhymed couplets, and although there is some enjambment, there is none of the conversational authenticity that is sometimes found in the dramatic monologues of John Donne and Robert Browning. This poem has more the nature of a set speech than of an urgent appeal. Its artificial quality is the result of both the subject matter and the form. May Day celebrations and pagan nature worship are far removed from the reader’s everyday concerns, and the complex metrical scheme that is repeated in each stanza draws attention to itself. In every stanza, lines 1, 2, 7, 8, 13, and 14 contain ten stresses, while all other lines are shortened to eight. The effect is one of variety, enhanced by the combinations of iambic and spondaic feet, but it is also one of patterned artificiality.

Anticipating English Romanticism by a century and a half, the speaker perceives the natural world as organic. Consequently, the most prevalent figure of speech is personification. In the first stanza alone, four inanimate objects are endowed with human characteristics: “the blooming morn,” “The dew,” “Each flower,” and “the birds.” In the first line, the morn, imaged as Aurora, is said to be presenting Apollo, the god of dawn whose hair is never cut: “the god unshorn.” Aurora, seen as throwing “her fair/ Fresh-quilted colors through the air,” is a complicated figure...

(The entire section is 508 words.)