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53: WITH FRIENDS T'ENJOY OUR DAYES

May 24, 2014

#53:  WITH FRIENDS T’ENJOY OUR DAYES.  “Herrick,” Wyndham Lewis said, “should be read in a Devon lane in the time of violets.”   Waiting for Spring to come, I’ve been rereading Robert Herrick, and this paragraph will be simply a garland laid to his praise.  Practically of all English poets, he is one who needs least to be read with heavy preparation, to be made a study, or to be read for any reason but pleasure.  There is in Herrick no development—or none you need to worry about.  He has no system or philosophy, just the self-refreshing iambic lilt of the pure lyric.  He wrote at a fortunate time—as a disciple of Jonson, when poetry was simplifying even the ornament of Elizabethan style, but before Prior and the hoards of Fleet Street flattened everything to the drone of the heroic couplet.  It was the final moment in which the Altheas and Perennas and Julias had the blood of life and emotion in them, before they became the city-dressed mummies of convention.  He was the contemporary of, and long outlived Herbert; like Herbert, he took orders to a rural curacy.  (Marchette Chute wrote a dual biography of them, Two Gentle Men, published by Dutton in 1959.)   His verse was old-fashioned in its day, and politically incorrect: he was an unrepentant Royalist.  He groused about leaving London, but Devonshire gave his verse its purling brooks and blooming flowers, its Edenic air, maybe even Herrick’s vivid sense of smell.  His later religious verse, the Noble Numbers, is not to be mocked; but without Hesperides, his lyric collection, English poetry would have suffered a strange gap, a sense of a room in the mansion left unoccupied.  Pick him up—any edition—and start reading.  Have fun.

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