(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

“As thou deserv’st, be proud; then gladly let/ The Muse give thee the Delphick Coronet.” This brief epigram, one of hundreds Robert Herrick included in his collection of twelve hundred poems, best describes the pride with which he presented his Hesperides and the recognition he received after years of neglect. His subtitle indicates the inclusion in one volume of his Hesperides and his Noble Numbers, a group of ecclesiastical poems, prayers, hymns, and apothegms dated 1647. This collection, together with fifteen or so poems discovered by nineteenth century scholars and about twice the number recovered later in manuscript, constitute the literary remains of one of the finest lyricists in the English language.

The arrangement of the poems in Hesperides (the title is a conceit based on the legend of nymphs who guarded with a fierce serpent the golden apples of the goddess Hera) is whimsical. Most of the lyrics were composed in Devonshire, where Herrick was vicar of Dean Prior from 1629 until the Puritan victories caused his removal from his parish in 1647. Restored to his living in 1662, he lived until his death in the West Country, which had inspired his pagan-spirited, rustic verse.

The great Herrick scholar L. C. Martin discovered a chronology, from the collation of many manuscripts, which indicates the four general periods in which these poems were composed, carefully rewritten, and then painstakingly published. From the time of his apprenticeship to his goldsmith uncle at least one poem remains, “A Country Life,” which may have been one of the reasons why the youthful poet was allowed to terminate his service and go to Cambridge. Though Herrick’s activities during his university period are remembered chiefly for the letters he wrote asking his uncle for money, he also composed a variety of commendatory poems and memory verses. One, the longest poem he wrote, is addressed to a fellow student who was ordained in 1623.

The second period, and perhaps the most important, was from 1617 to 1627, when he became the favorite of the “sons” of Ben Jonson. Herrick’s famous poem, “His Fare-well to Sack,” epitomizes these formative years of good talk, wide reading, witty writing, and good fellowship. In this poem, too, are the names of the poets who most influenced him—Anacreon, Horace, and by implication Catullus and Theocritus. The well-known “The Argument of His Book” echoes the pastoral strain in the poet’s declaration of his literary interests:

I sing of Brooks, of Blossomes, Birds, and Bowers:Of April, May, of June, and July-Flowers.I sing of May-poles, Hock-carts, Wassails, Wakes,Of Bride-grooms, Brides, and of their Bridall-cakes.I write of Youth, of Love, and have AccesseBy these, to sing of cleanly-Wantonnesse.I sing of...

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(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Coiro, Ann Baynes. “Herrick’s Hesperides: The Name and the Frame.” Journal of English Language History 52, no. 2 (Summer, 1985): 311-336. Deals with the political and social conflicts that affected Hesperides. Questions Herrick’s apparent royalism, seeing ambiguity in his poetry’s praise of the political establishment of his time.

Deming, Robert H. Ceremony and Art: Robert Herrick’s Poetry. The Hague, the Netherlands: Mouton, 1974. Stresses the ceremonial and liturgical aspects of Herrick’s poetry, emphasizing the influence of Anglican theological precepts upon his approaches to artistic endeavor.

Guibbory, Achsah. “Robert Herrick: Religious Experience in the ’Temple’ of Hesperides.” In Ceremony and Community from Herbert to Milton: Literature, Religion, and Cultural Conflict in Seventeenth-Century England. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Analyzes Hesperides within the context of seventeenth century religious conflict, demonstrating how the poem reflects the contemporary debate over ceremonial worship.

Hesler, M. Thomas. “Herrick’s Masque of Death.” In The English Civil Wars in the Literary Imagination, edited by Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999. Examines how Hesperides and Herrick’s other poems reflect and depict the English civil war.

Marcus, Leah S. “Robert Herrick.” The Cambridge Companion to English Poetry, Donne to Marvell, edited by Thomas N. Corns. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Most of the fourteen essays focus on the work of individual poets, including Marcus’s article about Herrick. Other essays provide context for these poets’ work by discussing politics, religion, gender politics, genre, and tradition in the early seventeenth century.

Moorman, F. W. Robert Herrick: A Biographical and Critical Study. London: John Lane, 1910. One of the first extended studies of Hesperides and of Herrick’s other poetry. Contains useful biographical information. Still the foundation to an understanding of Herrick’s poetry.

Rollin, Roger B. Robert Herrick. Boston: Twayne, 1966. Comprehensive study of Hesperides, providing analysis of the major thematic elements, expositions of individual poems, and biographical and historical data.

_______. “Witty by Design: Robert Herrick’s Hesperides.” In The Wit of Seventeenth-Century Poetry, edited by Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1995. Examines Herrick’s use of humor in the collection.

Rollin, Roger B., and J. Max Patrick, eds.“Trust to Good Verses”: Herrick Tercentenary Essays. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1978. A series of essays covering a variety of subjects related to Herrick, such as his love poetry, mysticism, and historical sources. Includes bibliography