Herrick and the Fruits of the Garden
Confronted with a poem of Herrick's, a critic has something of a problem. Although he can easily murmur about poetic gems, or say, with Masefield, that Herrick is "the one consummate singer of light, lovely, delicate lyrics ... , whose art is perfectly spontaneous and light of heart," such comments are not completely satisfying. Perhaps for that reason Herrick's poems have not, in this century, received the attention they deserve. Too often they have been either accepted as conventionally important, and thus not discussed seriously, or else dismissed scornfully as trivial and sentimental. Thus in F. R. Leavis's account of seventeenth-century poetry, Herrick serves only as a foil to the "line of wit." Contrasting "The Funerall Rites of the Rose" with a passage from Marvell, Leavis asserts that:
Herrick's game, Herrick's indulgence, in fact, is comparatively solemn; it does not refer us outside itself. "Let us," he virtually says, "be sweetly and deliciously sad," and we are to be absorbed in the game, the "solemn" rite.... What Marvell is doing is implicitly "placed"; not in the least solemn, he is much more serious.
It is possible, I think, to share many of Leavis's standards and yet disagree with this estimate. But properly to answer Leavis's charge, one must go beyond the conventional view of Herrick as a "consummate singer of light, lovely, delicate lyrics": one must show how Herrick's "game" is "placed," how it refers us outside itself, and what "seriousness" lies beneath its undeniably charming lyric surface. In The Well Wrought Urn, Cleanth Brooks has demonstrated this with regard to one poem, "Corinna's Going____________________