New life after winter’s rigours was a theme taken up by many English poets.
Famously, William Wordsworth was inspired to write about spring by seeing “a crowd” of golden daffodils, but Robert Herrick had beaten him to it – 150 years earlier.
Herrick (1591-1674) was the son of a prosperous London goldsmith, whose footsteps he was destined to follow had he not abandoned a 10 year apprenticeship with his uncle. Entering St. John’s College, Cambridge, in 1613, he graduated with both a BA and an MA. Removing to London, he joined a drinking club of young writers who gathered at the Mermaid Tavern in Cheapside to idolise the playwright Ben Johnson.
In 1623 Herrick was ordained as an Episcopal minister and four years later acted as chaplain to the Duke of Buckingham on an ill-fated expedition to capture the French fortress-city of Saint-Martin-de-Ré. In 1629 he was appointed by Charles I to the living of Dean Prior in Devonshire, a post he reluctantly accepted. There, in the seclusion of country life, he wrote some of his best work, never ceasing, however, to long for the pleasures of London.
In 1647, Herrick was expelled from the priory for refusing to sign Oliver Cromwell’s Solemn League and Covenant for Reformation and Defence of Religion, and returned to London, where the following year he published his massive collection of poems, Hesperides, which included “To Daffodils”.
With the restoration of Charles II in 1660, Herrick returned to Devon where he died in 1674 at the age of eighty-three.
“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.”