Robert Herrick (1591 – 1674) was a cleric and a prolific poet who wrote over 2,500 poems. He’s probably best remembered for his poem To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time with its famous first line, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may…”. Herrick fell out of favour during the Puritan era, and his work was only rediscovered in the 19th century. He never married and it is thought all the women to whom he addressed his love poems were fictional.
The poet Swinburne said that Herrick was “the greatest song writer ever born of English race” and many of his poems have been set to music.
Here’s his lovely poem To Daffodils, a work about the fleeting nature of time and how life inevitably withers away, like the flowers. And yet there can be comfort in the knowledge that time is humanity’s only constant and that a new dawn will inevitably come.
To Daffodils by Robert Herrick
Fair Daffodils, we weep to see
You haste away so soon;
As yet the early-rising sun
Has not attain’d his noon.
Until the hasting day
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.
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.
In the first stanza, the poet directly addresses the daffodils, expressing sadness when they fade away and begging them not to wither too soon. In the next stanza he equates the situation of the flowers with that of humanity. Humans too will age, change and pass away.
The poem first appeared in 1648, when it was published in Herrick’s volume Hesperides.
Listen to the poem being read:
Or a musical version:
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