SINCE THE DAYS OF HIS APPRENTICESHIP, THE WRITING OF POETRY had been the chief thing in Robert Herrick's life. And with this had come, in time, the idea of a single book in which all his work would be gathered together. The dream had come to him relatively early, for in the 1620's he was already talking about "my Book" in the same excited terms he used two decades later.
The book was to be his memorial as a poet -- "a laurel, to grow green for ever." It was to be a memorial also to all the people who were fortunate enough to be mentioned in it. Over the years Herrick had written a large number of tributes to friends and relatives and public personages, or, as he put it in one of his more stately moments:
. . . I've travell'd all this realm throughout
To seek, and find some few immortals out
To circumspangle this my spacious sphere . . .
Sometimes he thought of his growing collection of poems as a mighty town -- "a city here of heroes I have made" -- and sometimes he thought of the inhabitants of his book as "a stock of saints" or as jewels in an "eternal coronet." But whatever the wording the idea is always the same. The fortunate individuals who have stepped into his book are worthy of immortality and he has assured them of it.
Stand by the magic of my powerful rhymes
'Gainst all the indignation of the times . . .
While others perish, here's thy life decreed
Because begot of my immortal seed.
This idea of the poet's ability to confer immortality has been a poetic commonplace ever since the first rhymer tried to bribe