Clarety Clarity

Colin Burrow

  • The Complete Poetry of Robert Herrick edited by Tom Cain and Ruth Connolly
    Oxford, 504 pp and 803 pp, £125.00, October 2013, ISBN 978 0 19 921284 2

Roughly thirty miles southwest of Exeter the A38 rips along the edge of the churchyard of Dean Prior, where Robert Herrick, with one period of interruption, was rector between 1630 and his death in 1674. The interruption began in or around January 1646, when the New Model Army marched along the predecessor of the A38 to relieve Plymouth. On their way they seem to have ejected Herrick from his relatively wealthy living, which had brought him £100 a year. Herrick fled to London, which he had always regarded as home, and in 1648 published his only book of poems, a double volume containing Hesperides and His Noble Numbers or Pious Pieces. The publication may have been a way of supplementing his drastically reduced income: if he presented copies to those praised within it he might expect a little something in return. After 1648 Herrick printed only one further poem. So Hesperides did amount to, as it said on the title page, The Works both Human and Divine of Robert Herrick, his life’s work, and Herrick’s pride in his achievement is marked by the fact that this is the first volume in England to refer to a collection of lyric poems as ‘works’.

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