Authors: Robert Herrick

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English poet

Author Works


Hesperides: Or, The Works Both Humane and Divine of Robert Herrick, Esq., 1648 (includes Noble Numbers)

The Complete Poetry of Robert Herrick, 1963, 1968


Robert Herrick, a poet who found his poetic inspiration in the pagan poets, especially Anacreon, Horace, Catullus, and Martial and who was in his youth associated with Ben Jonson and his witty followers, would hardly seem to have been suited for a career in the Church and even less so for a rural parish. Indeed, Herrick was deeply dissatisfied with his ignorant country congregation and regarded his Devonshire residence as a punishment. He found some consolation, nevertheless, in the pagan qualities of the local songs and dances, and he loved his pet menagerie, particularly the pig he taught to drink.{$I[AN]9810000492}{$I[A]Herrick, Robert}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Herrick, Robert}{$I[tim]1591;Herrick, Robert}

Herrick was born in London in 1591, about the time William Shakespeare began to write for the stage, and he died in the same year as John Milton. Herrick’s father, a prosperous goldsmith, died when Herrick was an infant, but he was aided by a rich uncle, Sir William Herrick, who was jeweler to the king. He was apprenticed to his uncle, but his academic talents made it advisable to send him to St. John’s, Cambridge, at the age of twenty-two. He took his bachelor’s degree in 1617 and his master’s degree in 1620. Little is known of the next nine years of his life, but he probably spent them in London.

In 1629 Herrick became vicar at Dean Prior, Devonshire, where, despite feeling exiled, he began to write poetry that exalted the charms of rusticity. He stayed in this rural setting until 1647, when he was removed from his position because he refused to subscribe to Parliamentary reforms. He thereupon went to London and collected his twelve hundred short poems into his single volume, Hesperides: Or, The Works Both Humane and Divine of Robert Herrick, Esq., which was published in 1648. Many of his lyrics were subsequently anthologized and set to music. In 1662 he was restored to his parish and lived there until his death in October, 1674.

Although some of his poems are devotional, Herrick’s most representative lyrics are full of pagan delights. His style is not Petrarchan but classic. Among the English poets he followed Christopher Marlowe and Jonson rather than the metaphysical wit of John Donne. He revised diligently, and as a result his metrics and stanzaic patterns are pleasingly varied. Herrick’s talents were little appreciated during most of the eighteenth century, but his idyllic charms captured the attention of the Romantic audience and his reputation has increased steadily since that time.

BibliographyCoiro, Ann Baynes. Robert Herrick’s “Hesperides” and the Epigram Book Tradition. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988. Argues for the structural integrity of Hesperides, insisting that the collection of poems be read as a whole. After exploring the cultural, political, and generic implications of the title of the book, Coiro provides a history of the epigram tradition and concludes with chapters on the epigrams of praise, mocking, and advice. Copious notes provide a rich bibliography to Herrick’s criticism.Guibbory, Achsah. Ceremony and Community from Herbert to Milton: Literature, Religion, and Cultural Conflict in Seventeenth-Century England. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Offers new and original readings of George Herbert, Herrick, Thomas Browne, and John Donne in an examination of the relationship between literature and religious conflict in seventeenth century England.Low, Anthony. Love’s Architecture: Devotional Modes in Seventeenth-Century English Poetry. New York: New York University Press, 1978. In his chapter on Herrick, Low discusses, with frequent quotations, his subject’s Epicureanism and devotion to pleasure, even in the sacred poems in Noble Numbers. For Low, even the meditative poems reflect a religion of pleasure, and the goal is often the place, heaven, not God.Marcus, Leah S. The Politics of Mirth: Jonson, Herrick, Milton, Marvell, and the Defense of Old Holiday Pastimes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986. Marcus devotes a chapter to Herrick’s Hesperides, which she discusses in terms of their relationship to the revelry and holiday moods associated with the monarchy. Marcus regards Herrick as the Cavalier poet-priest and finds in Hesperides, particularly in “Corinna’s Going A-Maying,” the sexual energy associated with her thesis.Marcus, Leah S. Robert Herrick. Rev. ed. New York: Twayne, 1992. Updated in the light of later scholarship. A comprehensive critical study of Herrick’s work. Includes bibliographic references and index.Rollin, Roger B., and J. Max Patrick, eds. “Trust to Good Verses”: Herrick Tercentenary Essays. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1978. Contains an introductory essay concerning trends in Herrick’s criticism as well as essays on the love poetry, on visual and musical themes, on the political poetry, and on the evolving of Herrick’s literary reputation. A welcome feature is the inclusion of a selected, thoroughly annotated bibliography of Herrick’s criticism.
Categories: Authors