Spontaneous Poetics – (Robert Herrick)

[Robert Herrick (1591-1674)]

AG: How many have read any (Robert) Herrick?  Raise your hand? And how many have not read no Herrick? How many haven’t read Herrick? Come on, raise your hands. Okay, so I’d be encouraged to read it. So this is “The Argument of His Book”, or the proposition (that) he has. There is a book you can buy (I think Everyman has a complete Herrick, Everyman’s Library), the argument, or proposition, or subject-matter of his book. [Allen begins to read] – “I sing of brooks, of blossoms, birds, and bowers,/ Of April, May, of June and July flowers./ I sing of Maypoles, hock carts, wassails, wakes/ Of bridegrooms, brides and of their bridal cakes”…”I write of hell; I sing (and ever shall)/ Of heaven, and hope to have it after all”

Student: That’s called “The Argument?”

AG: “The Argument of His Book, or description of the contents. It’s the opening of a large book he wrote.

There’s a kind of pretty ditty-like quality to a thing called “The Scare-Fire” (which is a sudden conflagration) [Allen reads “The Scare-Fire“] – “Water, water I desire/ Here’s a house of flesh on fire,/ Ope’ the fountains and the springs,/And come all to bucketings./What you cannot quench, pull down,/ Spoil a house to save a town;/ Better is that one should fall/ Than by one to hazard all.” – “Water, water I desire/ Here’s a house of flesh on fire”.

There’s a very famous “Delight in Disorder”. I think he finally got to be a cleric. I think he got to be a priest of some sort, I’m not sure.Does anybody know?

Student: Read “Delight in Disorder”

AG: Huh?

Student: Read “Delight in Disorder”

AG: I was going to, but was he a priest. Did he get to be a priest?

Student: Aren’t you thinking of (George) Herbert?

AG: Well, Herbert was a priest, but I think Herrick may have also.. Well.. [Allen proceeds to read Herrick’s “Delight in Disorder“] – “A sweet disorder in the dress/ Kindles in clothes a wantoness./A lawn about the shoulders thrown/ Into a fine distraction;/ An erring lace, which here and there/ Enthralls the crimson stomacher”..”A careless shoestring, in whose tie/ I see a wild civility;/ Do more bewitch me than when art/ is too precise in every part.” – It’s for flower-children’s dresses!

“To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” – I guess this is about the best-known poem in English [Allen reads Herrick’s “To the Virgins..” in its entirety] – “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,/ Old time is still a-flying;/ And this same flower that smiles today/ Tomorrow will be dying.”…”Then be no coy, but use your time/ And, while ye may, go marry;/ For, having lost but once your prime,/ You may forever tarry/” – Everybody has heard that poem before, haven’t (you)? Is there anyone who never remembered hearing that? That was a song too. [to one Student] – You never heard? Terrific. How did it sound? How old are you?
– How old are you?

Student: Twenty

AG: Just the time for the rosebuds!

Student: Allen?

AG: Well, it’s advice then to “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,/ Old time is still a-flying”

Student: Allen?

AG: Yeah

Student: Do you know anything about (the symbolism of botany – (the) flowers) and herbs in (Herrick)?

AG: I don’t know much about it but there are whole books on it (particularly relating to (Andrew) Marvell’s “The Garden” – the poem by Andrew Marvell called “The Garden” in which he made an image of herbs and flowers as a sundial and, apparantly, there were very complex gardens (in those days) with astrophysical suggestions connected to them, but I don’t know anything about it.

Student: I’ve seen in a lot of…

AG:  He might know. [Allen points to student]. Tom (sic) might know..

Student: I was just thinking, Ben Jonson wrote “Drink to me only with thine eyes..” – the class might know that.

AG: Well, we’re already on to Robert Herrick..I don’t want to go back to Jonson.

Student: Is he later than Jonson?

AG: Well, yes, actually. “To The Virgins..” is 1648. Yeah.
So there are local herbs, just as today, that had symbolic significance. I mentioned in Marvell’s “Garden”, there is – the palm, the oak, the bays (the palm for military victory, the oak for civic power and the bays for poetic power – laurel. Rue, with maidenheads, virginity..

Student: No

AG:…what? For losing virginity?

Student: Yeah, like take (the imagery of) rue..or..”when I was in my prime/I had some bonnie thyme”, something like that, and now it’s all gone.

AG: “When I was in my prime/I had some bonnie thyme – T-H-Y-M-E ?

Student: Well, yeah.

AG: “I had some bonnie thyme”?

[Another] Student: “When I was in my prime/ I cherished my thyme..

[Another] Student: “..stole your bunch of thyme” (sic)

AG: Sow your what?

Student: “Stole my bunch of thyme”

AG: “like a false young man, who stole my bunch of thyme (stole my sprig of thyme)”. Actually, there are whole books on that subject, none of which, I’ve read!

Student: Does anybody know a publisher? a name?

[Another] Student: Maud Bodkin has a book called “The Archetypal Images in Poetry” [actually, Archetypal Patterns in Poetry” (1934)]

AG: Maud Bodkin – B-O-D-K-I-N. Maud Bodkin – The Archetypal Images in Poetry, which would touch on that?

Student: I don’t know. Some of it maybe. I don’t know if she gets into…

AG: In her book there would be a footnote, recommending a complete book on it.

Student: There must be a bibliography in it.

AG: “To Daffodils”. Still Herrick. [Allen reads Herrick’s “To Daffodils” in its entirety] – “Fair daffodils, we weep to see/ You haste away so soon/ As yet the early-rising sun/ Has not attained its noon/ Stay, stay/ Until the hasting day..”…”We have as short a spring;/ As quick a growth to meet decay/As you or anything/ We die,/ As your hours do, and dry/ Away/ Like to the summer’s rain;/ Or as the pearls of morning dew/ Ne’er to be found again” – That’s real sweet –  “To Daffodils” –  “As you or anything/ We die,/ As your hours do, and dry/ Away”.

Herrick wrote a tiny little prayer to Ben Jonson, because Ben Jonson wrote such perfect verse and had so good an ear – [Allen reads] – “When I a verse shall make/ Know I have prayed thee/ For old religion’s sake,/ Saint Ben, to aid me./  Make the way smooth for me/ When I, thy Herrick/ Honouring thee, on my knee,/ Offer my lyric.  Candles I’ll give to thee/ And a new altar/ And thou, Saint Ben, shalt be/ Writ in my psalter.” – Cute (actually, he’s written much).

One comment

  1. It’s great to see the students trying to save AG from himself, and AG defeating the poor blossoms with the shroom head of his erudition and, of course, reading voice. The times have sure achanged… and Plato’s city may be safe… for the moment


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