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The trembling leaves, and through their close boughs breathe
Daphne hath broke her bark, and that swift foot,
EPITAPH ON THE LADY MARY VILLERS.
The Lady Mary Villers lies
Would you know what's soft? I dare
No more shall meads be decked with flowers,
Love shall no more inhabit earth,
IN PRAISE OF HIS MISTRESS.
You that will a wonder know,
Go with me;
Both burning be,-
Guide the way
As white as day;
Breeds endless pains,That's her mind, and they that know it May admire, but cannot show it.
[ROBERT HERRICK was born in Cheapside, in August 1594, and died at Dean-Prior, in Devonshire, on the 15th of October, 1674. He published one volume, containing Hesperides, dated 1648, and Noble Numbers, dated 1647)
Among the English pastoral poets/ Herrick takes an undisputed precedence, and as a lyrist generally he is scarcely excelled, except by Shelley. No other writer of the seventeenth century approached him in abundance of song, in sustained exercise of the purely musical and intuitive gifts of poetry. Shakspeare, Milton, and perhaps Fletcher, surpassed him in the passion and elevated harmony of their best lyrical pieces, as they easily excelled him in the wider range of their genius and the breadth of their accomplishment. But while these men exercised their art in all its branches, Herrick confined himself very narrowly to one or two, and the unflagging freshness of his inspiration, Aowing through a long life in so straitened a channel, enabled him to amass such a wealth of purely lyrical poetry as no other Englishman has produced. His level of performance was very high ; he seems to have preserved all that he wrote, and the result is that we possess more than twelve hundred of his little poems, in at least one out of every three of which we may find something charming or characteristic. Of all the Cavalier lyrists Herrick is the only one that followed the bent of his genius undisturbed, and lived a genuine artist's life. Consequently, while we have to lament, in the case of Lovelace or Suckling, a constant waste of energy, and unthrifty drain of poetic power, in Herrick all is wisely husbanded, and we feel satisfied that we possess the best that he could produce. His life was an ideal one so far as quiet and retirement went; to fourteen years of seclusion at Cambridge there succeeded twenty years of unbroken Arcadian repose in a Devonshire vicarage, and it was not till the desire to rhyme had left him that the poet was brought rudely face to face with the clamour and vexation of political feud. Thus he was preserved from that public riot and constant disturbance of the commonwealth which did its best to drown the voice of every poet from Carew to Dryden, which drove Crashaw away to madness and death, which made harsh the liquid melodies of Milton, which belied the promise of Davenant and broke the heart of Cowley. From all this disturbance and discord Herrick was fortunately free, and we may look in vain through his pastoral elegies and jets of amorous verse to discover a trace of the frantic times he lived in.
The one book which Herrick has bequeathed to us is filled with short poems, thrown together without any attempt at arrangement either of subject or time of composition. They range between odes and epithalamia of five or six pages, and epigrams of a single couplet. In preparing the Hesperides for the press it would seem as though the English poet took for his model the works of the Latin epigrammatist Martial. There is, however, a deeper resemblance between the two writers than is to be found in the mere outward arrangement of their works. The successive editors of Herrick have noted what they conceive to be his likeness to Catullus, but this is hardly critical. The prominent qualities of Herrick's verse are not passion so much as sensuous reverie, not fire so much as light, not the music of the lyre so much as of the flute and fiddle. In all these respects he is far enough from resembling Catullus, but very near to Martial, who, moreover, alone among the Latin poets has that minute picturesqueness of detail and delight in the accessories of life which we admire in Herrick. Moreover, it must be frankly admitted, that in his tendency to obscene and unsavoury jest, and in his radical indelicacy of fancy the English poet follows, happily at a great distance, the foulest of the ancients. But Herrick was not indebted solely to Martial or to Catullus ; his imagination was steeped in antique literature, and whether he was a Greek scholar or no, he contrived to assimilate into his work more of the temper of Theocritus and of the lyrists of the Anthology than any English writer of the century. The atmosphere is Greek, though we find little that shows direct study ; perhaps, with the tact of a poet, he extracted the odour and flavour of ancient verse without understanding it very well, just as Petrarch, dreaming above the MS. of Homer that he could not read, divined the place that Greek was destined to take in the revival of culture.
Herrick was a Pagan and a hedonist, and it was natural that