A Year
for Music!

Robert Herrick

Robert Herrick

Weigh me the fire; or canst thou find
A way to measure out the wind?


I have, so far, drawn titles for my artwork in this blog from nine poem's of Robert Herrick. I have loved his poetry since first encountering it in college. He led a tumultuous, but fulfilling, life: and he left a legacy of 2,500 poems.


Robert Herrick was born today in 1591 in Cheapside, London: the seventh child of a prosperous goldsmith. When Herrick was an infant, his father died a possible suicide. When old enough, Herrick was apprenticed to his uncle, who was goldsmith to the king—but he left that work for college at Cambridge, and he graduated from Trinity College in 1617, when he was 26 years old. He became one of the "Sons of Ben," a group of poets and playwrights influenced by Ben Jonson. In 1623, he was ordained, and he became a vicar in Devonshire, which was far from London, and he missed the city. He considered his years in Devonshire a kind of exile, and his soul lost and searching; consider his poem, 'To Find God," which is rich in questioning:

Weigh me the fire; or canst thou find
A way to measure out the wind? 
Distinguish all those floods that are
Mixed in that wat’ry theater, 
And taste thou them as saltless there, 
As in their channel first they were.   
Tell me the people that do keep
Within the kingdoms of the deep; 
Or fetch me back that cloud again, 
Beshivered into seeds of rain. 
Tell me the motes, dust, sands, and spears
Of corn, when summer shakes his ears; 
Show me that world of stars, and whence
They noiseless spill their influence. 
This if thou canst; then show me Him
That rides the glorious cherubim.


When Civil War engulfed England, Herrick remained loyal to the king. He refused to submit to the new church orders issued under the victorious Parliamentarians. He was, therefore, evicted from his vicarage, and he returned to his relatives in London, who took him in and took care of him—it was a happy homecoming. He wrote of the experience in "His Return to London":

From the dull confines of the drooping west,
To see the day spring from the pregnant east,
Ravish'd in spirit, I come!


While in London, he saw his first book of lyric poems printed: Hesperides. When the king was finally restored, Herrick enjoyed his own kind of restoration, in that the king restored him to his vicarage. He had to leave London again, but at least he could provide for himself. He died in Devonshire in 1674 at the age of 83. He remained a bachelor all his life, and the women he wrote about are likely fictional.


In Herrick's poetry, the pagan gods of Rome and Greece live again: the brooks are nymph filled; the forests contain dryads—there is magic everywhere and in everything. Classical allusions abound in Herrick's poems. He sometimes mixes paganism with Christianity, as in the poem "To the Water-Nymphs Drinking at the Fountain":

Reach with your whiter hands to me
Some crystal of the spring;
And I about the cup shall see
Fresh lilies flourishing.

Or else, sweet nymphs, do you but this--
To th' glass your lips incline;
And I shall see by that one kiss
The water turn'd to wine.


Perhaps Herrick felt that Christianity was sterile in comparison with what the pagans had enjoyed, rich as they were in Gods and Demi-Gods that enlivened their views of nature and life. These are Renaissance ideas: that the world is good (as Christians themselves acknowledge God stating during creation [see Genesis]), and humankind in it—good, as well, by nature: not fallen, not doomed. It is a happier way of looking at things.


Much of Herrick's poetry is concerned with how quick the years fly by, and health with it, and youth. He wrote one of the most famous of all carpe diem poems, "Corinna's Going a Maying," in which he implores a friend to come with him to enjoy the day, which, once gone, will never come again. To me, an equally beautiful carpe diem poem of Herrick's is the lesser-known "To Daffodils":

Fair Daffodils, we weep to see
You haste away so soon; 
As yet the early-rising sun
Has not attain'd his noon. 
Stay, stay, 
Until the hasting day
Has run
But to the even-song; 
And, having pray'd together, we
Will go with you along. 

We have short time to stay, as you, 
We have as short a spring; 
As quick a growth to meet decay, 
As you, or anything. 
We die
As your hours do, and dry
Like to the summer's rain; 
Or as the pearls of morning's dew, 
Ne'er to be found again. 


Herrick seems to prefigure the poetry of Thomas Hardy, and, especially, Gerard Manly Hopkins. His poetry has enriched my life, and I find that I return to it often: both to read new poems, and to reread those I already love.



Selected Composition


Monteverdi, "Zefiro Torna"


Program Notes


Herrick and Monteverdi were contemporaries, though they almost certainly never met: but Herrick may have heard Monteverdi's music—it was beloved, and it was rushed around Europe. Today, I listened to the great Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená and the Austrian coloratura soprano Anna Prohaska, with Andrea Marcon conducting La Cetra Barockorchester of Basel in Monteverdi's madrigal "Zefiro Torna" (from the album Magdalena Kožená: Monteverdi):

Monteverdi, "Zefiro Torna"





I created "The Glorious Lamp of Heaven," the image above, in 2006. It is based on Mandelbrot fractals. The title is from Robert Herrick's carpe diem poem "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time":

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And, while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.


The great Pre-Raphaelite artist John William Waterhouse painted a beautiful composition titled "Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May" in 1909. Here is a link to a reproduction of it, from the site John William Waterhouse: The Complete Works:

Waterhouse, "Gather Ye Rosebuds while Ye May

National Park Service Centenary

National Park Service Centenary

Proxima Centauri b

Proxima Centauri b