Advice to Virgins from a Wise Man

June 25, 2020

Portrait of Robert Herrick

Robert Herrick (1591–1674), Selected Poetry
Vol. 40, pp. 334-340 of The Harvard Classics

"Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying; And this same flower that smiles today, to-morrow will be dying?" Herrick was only a humble country minister with a wealth of wisdom and a keen appreciation of life, which he expressed in lyrics of wonderful beauty and melody.


CHERRY-RIPE, ripe, ripe, I cry,
Full and fair ones; come and buy.
If so be you ask me where
They do grow, I answer: There
Where my Julia’s lips do smile;
There’s the land, or cherry-isle,
Whose plantations fully show
All the year where cherries grow.

A Child’s Grace
HERE a little child I stand
Heaving up my either hand;
Cold as paddocks though they be.
Here I lift them up to Thee,
For a benison to fall
On our meat and on us all. Amen.

The Mad Maid’s Song
GOOD-MORROW to the day so fair,
  Good-morning, sir, to you;
Good-morrow to mine own torn hair
  Bedabbled with the dew.

Good-morning to this primrose too,
  Good-morrow to each maid
That will with flowers the tomb bestrew
  Wherein my love is laid.

Ah! woe is me, woe, woe is me!
  Alack and well-a-day!
For pity, sir, find out that bee
  Which bore my love away.

I’ll seek him in your bonnet brave,
  I’ll seek him in your eyes;
Nay, now I think they’ve made his grave
  I’ th’ bed of strawberries.

I’ll seek him there; I know ere this
  The cold, cold earth doth shake him;
But I will go, or send a kiss
  By you, sir, to awake him.

Pray hurt him not; though he be dead,
  He knows well who do love him,
And who with green turfs rear his head,
  And who do rudely move him.

He’s soft and tender (pray take heed);
  With bands of cowslips bind him,
And bring him home—but ’tis decreed
  That I shall never find him!

To the Virgins

GATHER ye rose-buds while ye may,
  Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day,
  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 for ever tarry.

To Dianeme

SWEET, be not proud of those two eyes
Which starlike sparkle in their skies;
Nor be you proud, that you can see
All hearts your captives; yours yet free:
Be you not proud of that rich hair
Which wantons with the lovesick air;
Whenas that ruby which you wear,
Sunk from the tip of your soft ear,
Will last to be a precious stone
When all your world of beauty’s gone.

A Sweet Disorder

SWEET disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness:—
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distractión,—
An erring lace, which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher,—
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbands to flow confusedly,—
A winning wave, deserving note,
In the tempestuous petticoat,—
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility,—
Do more bewitch me, than when art
Is too precise in every part.

Whenas in Silks

WHENAS 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!

To Anthea who may Command Him Any Thing

BID me to live, and I will live
  Thy Protestant to be:
Or bid me love, and I will give
  A loving heart to thee.

A heart as soft, a heart as kind,
  A heart as sound and free
As in the whole world thou canst find,
  That heart I’ll give to thee.

Bid that heart stay, and it will stay,
  To honour thy decree:
Or bid it languish quite away,
  And ’t shall do so for thee.

Bid me to weep, and I will weep
  While I have eyes to see:
And having none, yet I will keep
  A heart to weep for thee.

Bid me despair, and I’ll despair,
  Under that cypress tree:
Or bid me die, and I will dare
  E’en Death, to die for thee.

Thou art my life, my love, my heart,
  The very eyes of me,
And hast command of every part,
  To live and die for thee.

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 any thing.
        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.

To Blossoms

FAIR pledges of a fruitful tree,
    Why do ye fall so fast?
    Your date is not so past,
But you may stay yet here awhile
    To blush and gently smile,
        And go at last.

What, were ye born to be
    An hour or half’s delight,
    And so to bid good-night?
’Twas pity Nature brought ye forth
    Merely to show your worth,
        And lose you quite.

But you are lovely leaves, where we
    May read how soon things have
    Their end, though ne’er so brave:
And after they have shown their pride
    Like you, awhile, they glide
        Into the grave.

Corinna’s Maying

    GET up, get up for shame! The blooming morn
    Upon her wings presents the god unshorn.
    See how Aurora throws her fair
    Fresh-quilted colours through the air:
    Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see
    The dew-bespangling herb and tree!
Each flower has wept and bow’d toward the east,
Above an hour since, yet you not drest;
    Nay! not so much as out of bed?
    When all the birds have matins said,
    And sung their thankful hymns, ’tis sin,
    Nay, profanation, to keep in,
Whenas a thousand virgins on this day
Spring, sooner than the lark, to fetch in May.

Rise, and put on your foliage, and be seen
To come forth, like the spring-time, fresh and green,
    And sweet as Flora. Take no care
    For jewels for your gown or hair:
    Fear not; the leaves will strew
    Gems in abundance upon you:
Besides, the childhood of the day has kept,
Against you come, some orient pearls unwept.
    Come, and receive them while the light
    Hangs on the dew-locks of the night,
    And Titan on the eastern hill
    Retires himself, or else stands still
Till you come forth! Wash, dress, be brief in praying:
Few beads are best when once we go a-Maying.

Come, my Corinna, come; and coming, mark
How each field turns a street, each street a park,
    Made green and trimm’d with trees! see how
    Devotion gives each house a bough
    Or branch! each porch, each door, ere this,
    An ark, a tabernacle is,
Made up of white-thorn neatly interwove,
As if here were those cooler shades of love.
    Can such delights be in the street
    And open fields, and we not see ’t?
    Come, we’ll abroad: and let’s obey
    The proclamation made for May,
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying
But, my Corinna, come, let’s go a-Maying.

There’s not a budding boy or girl this day
But is got up and gone to bring in May.
    A deal of youth, ere this, is come
    Back, and with white-thorn laden home.
    Some have dispatch’d their cakes and cream,
    Before that we have left to dream:
And some have wept and woo’d, and plighted troth,
And chose their priest, ere we can cast off sloth:
    Many a green-gown has been given,
    Many a kiss, both odd and even:
    Many a glance, too, has been sent
    From out the eye, love’s firmament:
Many a jest told of the keys betraying
This night, and locks pick’d: yet we’re not a-Maying.

Come, let us go, while we are in our prime,
And take the harmless folly of the time!
    We shall grow old apace, and die
    Before we know our liberty.
    Our life is short, and our days run
    As fast away as does the sun.
And, as a vapour or a drop of rain,
Once lost, can ne’er be found again,
    So when or you or I are made
    A fable, song, or fleeting shade,
    All love, all liking, all delight
    Lies drowned with us in endless night.
Then, while time serves, and we are but decaying,
Come, my Corinna, come, let’s go a-Maying.

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