1 October 2016 Susannah

Poem of the Month: October 2016 – Robert Herrick’s Julia Poems

Robert Herrick's face

Upon Julia’s Clothes by Robert Herrick

When as in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.
Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free;
O how that glittering taketh me!

 

The Night Piece, to Julia by Robert Herrick

Robert Herrick by Halleck's New English Literature, 1913.

Robert Herrick by Halleck’s New English Literature, 1913.

Her eyes the glow-worm lend thee,
The shooting stars attend thee;
And the elves also,
Whose little eyes glow
Like the sparks of fire, befriend thee.
No Will-o’-th’-Wisp mislight thee,
Nor snake or slow-worm bite thee;
But on, on thy way,
Not making a stay,
Since ghost there’s none to affright thee.
Let not the dark thee cumber:
What though the moon does slumber?
The stars of the night
Will lend thee their light
Like tapers clear without number.
Then, Julia, let me woo thee,
Thus, thus to come unto me;
And when I shall meet
Thy silv’ry feet
My soul I’ll pour into thee.

 

Title page of Robert Herrick's Hesperides, 1648

Title page of Robert Herrick’s Hesperides, 1648

My choice of poem (or in this case, poems) this month is influenced by my Dad. He requested the first poem above, because he quoted the line about “the liquefaction of her clothes” when speaking at the annual conference of the Undergarment Society of Canada. Now I know there are some people out there who think Jane Austen conferences are a bit strange, but a scientist speaking at an Undergarment Society conference ….??????

Robert Herrick (1591 – 1674) is best remembered today for the line “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may”. Herrick was a vicar, a member of a group called ‘the sons of Ben’ (men dedicated to the writings of Ben Jonson), and a prolific poet, penning over 2,500 poems. He lived through the Civil War as a monarchist – perhaps this made him extra appreciative of the richness and beauty of life. He never married and it is thought that the women to whom he addressed his love poems were fictitious (there are 14 women addressed in 158 poems). In 1648 Herrick published all his poems in one collection called Hesperides – he is the only early modern English poet to do such a thing.

There are actually more than 70 Julia poems – you can find most of them on luminarium.org. Herrick is inspired by extraordinary aspects of Julia’s body and personality – the poems include Upon Julia’s Riband, Julia’s Petticoat, Upon the Nipple of Julia’s Breast, Upon Julia’s Hair Filled with Dew, Upon Julia’s Breath and the astonishing Upon Julia’s Sweat where he compares her perspiration to “oil of blossoms” and “oil of lilies”. It makes me a little sad that Julia was probably a figment of Herrick’s imagination and not a real breathing woman. How flattered she would have been to have had so many poems written in her honour.

Margareta Maria de Roodere and Her Parents. 1652. Oil on canvas by Gerard van Honthorst.

Margareta Maria de Roodere and her parents. 1652. Oil on canvas by Gerard van Honthorst.

Upon Julia’s Clothes, a poem of only 6 lines, looks at the relationship between appearance and attraction. Julia is clearly far more appealing dressed in silks than she is in more ordinary garb. It is known that Herrick was seriously short-sighted, and almost certainly he is thinking sensually of Julia, with or without her clothes. But what a beautiful description of the clothed female body. What woman would not want to be praised for the “liquefaction of her clothes” and “that brave vibration each way free”? When the poem culminates in the line “O how that glittering taketh me!”, you cannot help but share the poet’s excitement. The poem of course is not really about Julia’s clothes, but rather about how those clothes make the poet feel. He seems almost to swoon – he’s in love with Julia, her style, her movements, her body.

The Night Piece, to Julia is a 20 line poem in which the poet implores Julia to visit him at night. He assures her of the safety of the country walk she must take in order to visit him, but there is also a suggestion that he has woven a spell to ensure both her physical and moral safety if she comes to see him. He wants her path to be free of snakes, false lights and ghosts. In the last stanza he mentions silver in relation to Julia’s feet – there is a suggestion of ‘quicksilver’ as she comes to him, and the sense that she is a luminous goddess.

Have you ever been flattered in poetry? Share your thoughts on Herrick’s poems by leaving a comment.

 

Luminarium: The Works of Robert Herrick

Project Gutenberg: Robert Herrick

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Featured image credit- Robert Herrick’s face by Unknown – Internet, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47241508
Body image credit- Margareta Maria de Roodere and Her Parents. 1652. Oil on canvas by Gerard van Honthorst – http://www.all-art.org/baroque/honthorst1.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1339573
Body image credit- Title page of Robert Herrick’s Hesperides, 1648 by Robert Herrick – http://www.gutenberg.org/files/22421/22421-h/i.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31112909

Comments (4)

  1. Donald Nairn

    I also like the one about a rabit in a snare..Im also really sorry that I missed your lecture on Stevenson but hope to make the one on Wilde
    Best wishesDonald Nairn.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I do hope you can make it to the Oscar Wilde lecture and am so glad you enjoyed my choice of poem for the month.

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