Chapter LVI: Herrick And Marvell--Of Blossoms And Bowers
ANOTHER poet of this age, Robert Herrick, in himself joined the two styles of poetry of which we have been speaking, for he was both a love poet and a religious poet.
He was born in 1591 and was the son of an old, well-to-do family, his father being a London goldsmith. But, like Herbert, he lost his father when he was but a tiny child. Like Herbert again he went to Westminster School and later Cambridge. But before he went to Cambridge he was apprenticed to his uncle, who was a goldsmith, as his brother, Herrick's father, had been. Robert, however, never finished his apprenticeship. He found out, we may suppose, that he had no liking for the jeweler's craft, that his hand was meant to create jewels of another kind. So he left his uncle's workshop and went to Cambridge, although he was already much beyond the usual age at which boys then went to college. Like Herbert he went to college meaning to study for the Church. But according to our present-day ideas he seems little fitted to have been a priest. For although we know little more than a few bare facts about Herrick's life, when we have read his poems and looked at his portrait we can draw for ourselves a clear picture of the man, and the picture will not fit in with our ideas of priesthood.
In some ways therefore, as we have seen, though there was an outward likeness between the lives of Herbert and of Herrick, it was only an outwards likeness. Herbert was tender and kindly, the very model of a Christian gentleman. Herrick was a jolly old Pagan, full of a rollicking joy in life. Even in appearance these two poets were different. Herbert was tall and thin with a quiet face and eyes which were truly "homes of silent prayer." In Herrick's face is something gross, his great Roman nose and thick curly hair seem to suit his pleasure-loving nature. There is nothing spiritual about him.
After Herrick left college we know little of his life for eight or nine years. He lived in London, met Ben Jonson and all the other poets and writers who flocked about great Ben. He went to court no doubt, and all the time he wrote poems. It was a gay and cheerful life which, when at length he was given the living of Dean Prior in Devonshire, he found it hard to leave.
It was then that he wrote his farewell to poetry. He says:--
"I, my desires screw from thee, and direct
Them and my thought to that sublim'd respect
And conscience unto priesthood."
It was hard to go. But yet he pretends at least to be resigned, and he ends by saying:--
"The crown of duty is our duty: Well--
Doing's the fruit of doing well. Farewell."
For eighteen years Herrick lived in his Devonshire home, and we know little of these years. But he thought sadly at times of the gay days that were gone. "Ah, Ben!" he writes to Jonson,
"Say how, or when
Shall we thy guests
Made at the Sun,
Where we such clusters had,
And yet each verse of thine
Yet he was not without comforts and companions in his country parsonage. His good and faithful servant Prue kept house for him, and he surrounded himself with pets. He had a pet lamb, a dog, a cat, and even a pet pig which he taught to drink out of a mug.
But Herrick did not love his country home and parish or his people. We are told that the gentry round about loved him "for his florid and witty discourses." But his people do not seem to have loved these same discourses, for we are also told that one day in anger he threw his sermon from the pulpit at them because they did not listen attentively. He says:--
"More discontents I never had,
Since I was born, than here,
In this dull Devonshire."
Yet though Herrick hated Devonshire, or at least said so, it was this same wild country that called forth some of his finest poems. He himself knew that, for in the next lines he goes on to say:--
"Yet justly, too, I must confess
I ne'er invented such
Than where I loathed so much."
Yet it is not the ruggedness of the Devon land we feel in Herrick's poems. We feel rather the beauty of flowers, the warmth of sun, the softness of spring winds, and see the greening trees, the morning dews, the soft rains. It is as if he had not let his eyes wander over the wild Devonshire moorlands, but had confined them to his own lovely garden and orchard meadow, for he speaks of the "dew-bespangled herb and tree," the "damasked meadows," the "silver shedding brooks." Hardly any English poet has written so tenderly of flowers as Herrick. One of the best known of these flower poems is To Daffodils.
"Fair Daffodils, we weep to see
You haste away so soon;
Has not attain'd his noon.
Until the hasting day
But to the Even-song;
Will go with you along.
We have short time to stay, as you,
We have as short a spring;
As you, or anything.
As your hours do, and dry
Like to the summer's rain;
Ne'er to be found again."
And here is part of a song for May morning:--
"Get up, get up for shame, the blooming morn
Upon her wings presents the god unshorn.
See how Aurora throws her fair
Fresh-quilted colours through the air:
Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see
The dew bespangling herb and tree,
Nay! not so much as out of bed?
When all the birds have matins said
And sung their thankful hymns, 'tis sin,
Nay, profanation to keep in,
Rise and put on your foliage, and be seen
To come forth, like the Spring-time, fresh and green
And sweet as Flora. Take no care
For jewels for your gown or hair;
Fear not; the leaves will strew
Gems in abundance upon you:
Come and receive them while the light
Hangs on the dew-locks of the night:
And Titan on the eastern hill
Retires himself, or else stands still
Another well-known poem of Herrick's is:--
"Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
To-morrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of Heaven, the Sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
And nearer he's to setting.
That age is best, which is the first,
When Youth and Blood are warmer:
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
You may for ever tarry."
Herrick only published one book. He called it The Hesperides, or the works both Human and Divine. The "divine" part although published in the same book, has a separate name, being called his Noble Numbers. The Hesperides, from whom he took the name of his book, were lovely maidens who dwelt in a beautiful garden far away on the verge of the ocean. The maidens sang beautifully, so Herrick took their name for his book, for it might well be that the songs they sang were such as his. This garden of the Hesperides was sometimes thought to be the same as the fabled island of Atlantis of which we have already heard. And it was here that, guarded by a dreadful dragon, grew the golden apples which Earth gave to Hera on her marriage with Zeus.
The Hesperides is a collection of more than a thousand short poems, a few of which you have already read in this chapter. They are not connected with each other, but tell of all manner of things.
Herrick was a religious poet too, and here is something that he wrote for children in his Noble Numbers. It is called To his Saviour, a Child: A Present by a Child.
"Go, pretty child, and bear this flower
Unto thy little Saviour;
And tell him, by that bud now blown,
He is the Rose of Sharon known.
When thou hast said so, stick it there
Upon his bib or stomacher;
And tell Him, for good hansel too,
That thou hast brought a whistle new,
Made of a clear, straight oaten reed,
To charm his cries at time of need.
Tell Him, for coral, thou hast none,
But if thou hadst, He should have one;
But poor thou art, and known to be
Even as moneyless as He.
Lastly, if thou canst win a kiss
From those mellifluous lips of His;
Then never take a second one,
To spoil the first impression."
Herrick wrote also several graces for children. Here is one:--
"What God gives, and what we take
'Tis a gift for Christ His sake:
Be the meal of beans and peas,
God be thanked for those and these:
Have we flesh, or have we fish,
All are fragments from His dish.
He His Church save, and the king;
And our peace here, like a Spring,
Make it ever flourishing."
While Herrick lived his quiet, dull life and wrote poetry in the depths of Devonshire, the country was being torn asunder and tossed from horror to horror by the great Civil War. Men took sides and fought for Parliament or for King. Year by year the quarrel grew. What was begun at Edgehill ended at Naseby where the King's cause was utterly lost. Then, although Herrick took no part in the fighting, he suffered with the vanquished, for he was a Royalist at heart. He was turned out of his living to make room for a Parliament man. He left this parish without regret.
"Deanbourne, farewell; I never look to see
Deane, or thy warty incivility.
Thy rocky bottom, that doth tear thy streams,
And makes them frantic, ev'n to all extremes;
To my content, I never should behold,
Were thy streams silver, or thy rocks all gold.
Rocky thou art, and rocky we discover
Thy men: and rocky are thy ways all over.
O men, O manners, now and ever known
To be a rocky generation:
A people currish; churlish as the seas;
And rude, almost, as rudest savages:
With whom I did, and may re-sojourn when
Rocks turn to rivers, rivers turn to men."
Hastening to London, he threw off his sober priest's robe, and once more putting on the gay dress worn by the gentlemen of his day he forgot the troubles and the duties of a country parson.
Rejoicing in his freedom he cried:--
"London my home is: though by hard fate sent
Into a long and irksome banishment;
Yet since called back; henceforward let me be,
O native country, repossess'd by thee."
He had no money, but he had many wealthy friends, so he lived, we may believe, merrily enough for the next fifteen years. It was during these years that the Hesperides was first published, although for a long time before many people had known his poems, for they had been handed about among his friends in manuscript.
So the years passed for Herrick we hardly know how. In the great world Cromwell died and Charles II returned to England to claim the throne of his fathers. Then it would seem that Herrick had not found all the joy he had hoped for in London, for two years later, although rocks had not turned to rivers, nor rivers to men, he went back to his "loathed Devonshire."
After that, all that we know of him is that at Dean Prior "Robert Herrick vicker was buried ye 15th day of October 1674." Thus in twilight ends the life of the greatest lyric poet of the seventeenth century.
All the lyric poets of whom I have told you were Royalists, but the Puritans too had their poets, and before ending this chapter I would like to tell you a little of Andrew Marvell, a Parliamentary poet.
If Herrick was a lover of flowers, Marvell was a lover of gardens, woods and meadows. The garden poet he has been called. He felt himself in touch with Nature:--
"Thus I, easy philosopher,
Among the birds and trees confer,
And little now to make me wants,
Or of the fowls or of the plants:
Give me but wings as they, and I
Straight floating in the air shall fly;
Or turn me but, and you shall see
I was but an inverted tree."*
*Appleton House, to the Lord Fairfax.
Yet although Marvell loved Nature, he did not live, like Herrick, far from the stir of war, but took his part in the strife of the times. He was an important man in his day. He was known to Cromwell and was a friend of Milton, a poet much greater than himself. He was a member of Parliament, and wrote much prose, but the quarrels in the cause of which it was written are matters of bygone days, and although some of it is still interesting, it is for his poetry rather that we remember and love him. Although Marvell was a Parliamentarian, he did not love Cromwell blindly, and he could admire what was fine in King Charles. He could say of Cromwell:--
"Though his Government did a tyrant resemble,
He made England great, and his enemies tremble."*
*A dialogue between two Horses.
And no one perhaps wrote with more grave sorrow of the death of Charles than did Marvell, and that too in a poem which, strangely enough, was written in honor of Cromwell.
"He nothing common did, or mean,
Upon that memorable scene,
But with his keener eye
The axe's edge did try:
But bowed his comely head,
Down, as upon a bed."*
*An Horatian ode upon Cromwell's return from Ireland.
At Cromwell's death he wrote:--
"Thee, many ages hence, in martial verse
Shall the English soldier, ere he charge, rehearse;
Singing of thee, inflame himself to fight
And, with the name of Cromwell, armies fright."*
*Upon the Death of the Lord Protector.
But all Marvell's writings were not political, and one of his prettiest poems was written about a girl mourning for a lost pet.
"The wanton troopers riding by
Have shot my fawn, and it will die.
Ungentle men! they cannot thrive
who killed thee. Thou ne'er didst alive
Them any harm: alas! nor could
Thy death yet do them any good.
. . . . .
With sweetest milk and sugar, first
I it at my own fingers nurs'd;
And as it grew, so every day
It wax'd more sweet and white than they.
It had so sweet a breath! And oft
I blushed to see its foot so soft,
And white (shall I say than my hand?)
Nay, any lady's of the land.
It is a wondrous thing how fleet
I have a garden of my own,
After the Restoration Marvell wrote satires, a kind of poem of which you had an early and mild example in the fable of the two mice by Surrey, a kind of poem of which we will soon hear much more. In these satires Marvell poured out all the wrath of a Puritan upon the evils of his day. Marvell's satires were so witty and so outspoken that once or twice he was in danger of punishment because of them. But once at least the King himself saved a book of his from being destroyed, for by every one "from the King down to the tradesman his books were read with great pleasure."* Yet he had many enemies, and when he died suddenly in August, 1678, many people though that he had been poisoned. He was the last, we may say, of the seventeenth-century lyric poets.
Besides the lyric writers there were many prose writers in the seventeenth century who are among the men to be remembered. But their books, although some day you will love them, would not interest you yet. They tell no story, they are long, they have not, like poetry, a lilt or rhythm to carry one on. It would be an effort to read them. If I tried to explain to you wherein the charm of them lies I fear the charm would fly, for it is impossible to imprison the sunbeam or find the foundations of the rainbow. It is better therefore to leave these books until the years to come in which it will be no effort to read them, but a joy.Next