Upon Julia's Voice

by Robert Herrick

Start Free Trial

What is the theme of "Upon Julia's Voice" by Robert Herrick?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The theme of the poem is beauty of Julia's voice, and more broadly, the value of beauty. In this short poem, the speaker is taking a moment to dwell on the beauty of the way his beloved sounds and to woo her by communicating how lovely her voice seems to his ears.

The alliteration of the poem, as well as the imagery and hyperbole, all seek to translate the melody of her voice into words.

For example, the pile-up of six alliterative "s" sounds in the first line captures a voice's fluid up and down cadence:

So smooth, so sweet, so silv’ry

as do the soft m's in the last line: "Melting melodious."

The speaker also uses hyperbole or exaggeration to express how beautiful Julia's voice is: it even would silence the "damn'd," he says, souls we would normally picture in hell crying out in torment. The speaker then says Julia's voice melts words to amber lutes, a lovely image that melds the visual beauty of soft amber with the pleasing sound of lutes.

We come away with the impression of a voice like a soothing musical instrument. Since people enjoy being complimented, perhaps Julia's heart will melt from the wooing of the speaker. If not, the reader still can enjoy a moment of dwelling on the beauty of a poem that echoes the beauty of the beloved.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The theme of "Upon Julia's Voice" by Robert Herrick is the healing power of music and the human voice. The poem focuses on Julia's voice and her lovely song like "lutes of amber." Herrick captures the reader's imagination with his opening line "So smooth, so sweet, so silv'ry is thy voice," emphasizing the power of her voice to calm and sooth.

Herrick reveals that even the "damn'd" could find peace in her voice and "make no noise," because they are drawn to her "melting melodic words."

Moreover, Julia is never seen throughout the poem, only heard. The fact that she is personally absent from the short poem draws even more attention to how her identity stands solely on the basis of her music and its power to enchant.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Rather than advancing any specific theme, “Upon Julia’s Voice” delivers an extended hyperbole about the beauty and supposed power of Julia’s voice. [Most of Herrick’s poems to Julia use this same technique.] To the speaker, Julia’s voice “melts” rather than merely vocalizing the “melodious words” when she sings to the accompaniment of lutes so mellow that they must be made “of amber.” So beautiful is her “silv’ry” voice, insists the enraptured speaker, that, if sinners “Damn’d” and suffering in Hell could overhear her singing as she walks about her chamber, they would be struck silent by that beauty. Rather than weeping or groaning from their own agony and woe, those sinners would listen silently as she sings. If there is a genuine theme amidst this fulsome praise, it might be that the power of music can even soothe the pains of Hell; or perhaps that beauty can steal into completely unexpected places.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The main theme of this poem is a type of love, in which the poet focusses on a single aspect of the beloved, and in a form of extended synecdoche, has that part stand in for the whole. Herrick emphasizes the nature of love as all consuming in his suggestion that in response to his beloved's voice, "I'll wish I might turn all to ear". In both this and his wish that he might die and become a lute, he emphasizes the historical and etymological sense of emotion as being moved by an external force, i.e. love as something acting upon him rather than an action performed by him,. and thus another theme in this poem is the passivity of the narrator who wishes to be all ear, to lie entranced, and become a lute played by his beloved.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the tone of the poem ''Upon Julia's Voice'' by Robert Herrick?

"Upon Julia's Voice" is one of a number of poems written by Robert Herrick in celebration of the many wonderful qualities of Julia, the idealized woman who inspired much of Herrick's work.

In this particular poem, Herrick is highlighting the profoundly soothing qualities of Julia's voice. He praises the sound of her spoken words - "So smooth, so sweet, so silv'ry" and gives an example of the incredible calming and comforting effect of hearing her voice. Even in the torment and fire of Hell, "could they hear, the Damn'd would make no noise."

Finally, Herrick points out how effortlessly Julia's voice can produce this effect. Talking to herself while "walking in thy chamber," her words are "melodious" and as beautiful as amber, which throughout the ages has been recognized as having exceptional beauty and color.

The entire poem is an ode of praise and recognition of the glory of her voice.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on