Herrick, Robert (English poet)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Herrick, Robert (English poet)

Robert Herrick, 1591–1674, English poet, generally considered the greatest of the Cavalier poets. Although he was born in London, he spent most of his childhood in Hampton. In 1607 he became apprenticed to his uncle, jeweler to the king, and remained in London until 1613. He was graduated from Cambridge, and sometime before 1627 he took orders. In 1627 he was chaplain in the duke of Buckingham's disastrous expedition to the Isle of Ré. Two years later Herrick was given the country living of Dean Prior in Devonshire, remaining there until 1647, when he was ejected because of royalist sympathies. He was restored to his living in 1662 and remained there until his death. Herrick never married, and the many women mentioned in his poems are probably imaginary. The bulk of his work is contained in the Hesperides (1648), which when it first appeared included his sacred songs called Noble Numbers. He was a disciple of Ben Jonson and his lyrics show considerable classical influence, but his greatness rests on his simplicity, his sensuousness, his care for design and detail, and his management of words and rhythms. Among the best known of his lyrics are "The Night Piece, to Julia" ; the song commencing "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may" ; "Corinna's Going a-Maying" ; "To Anthea" ; "Cherry-ripe" ; and "Upon Julia's Clothes." Among his sacred poems is the fine piece "His Litany to the Holy Spirit." Herrick also excelled in the writing of epigrams and epitaphs. His reputation declined after his death, but in the 19th cent. he was recognized as a great lyricist.

See edition of his poetical works by L. C. Martin (new ed. 1965); his memoirs, ed. by D. Aaron (1963); biography by G. W. Scott (1974); studies by F. Moorman (1910, repr. 1962), and R. B. Rollin (1966).

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