Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Cavalier Lyrists > Herrick’s epigrams
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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

I. Cavalier Lyrists.

§ 7. Herrick’s epigrams.


Next in importance to Herrick’s lyrical poems are his epigrams. Included among these, of course, are his scurrilous distichs, which reflect the nastiness of Martial without his wit, and which were discharged against hapless parishioners at Dean Prior, or enemies in town. But his greatness as an epigrammatist consists not in these, but in those épigrammes à la grecque which bear a striking likeness to the verses of the Greek anthologists. Some of these take the form of short complimentary poems to his friends and kinsmen, to whom he promises the immortality of reflected fame; others are epitaphs on matrons, little children and maidens dying in the first bloom of womanhood. Here belong, too, his gnomic verses, his quaint dedicatory poems to Juno, Neptune and Vulcan, and to his household gods; and, lastly, his numerous epigrams Upon Himself and To his Book, in which, in his delightfully frank and ingenuous manner, he disburdens his soul of its hopes or fears.   25
  The epigram had arisen in England under the influence of the revival of learning, and, though at first only the satiric epigram was practised, acquaintance with the Greek epigrams of the Planudean anthology had gradually led to the study of this earlier and nobler form of epigrammatic writing. Jonson has left us several epigrams of this nature, together with others of a satiric kind, and imitations of the poems in the Greek anthology find a place in some of the later song-books, and, above all, in Drummond’s collection of Madrigals and Epigrams, first published in 1656, but written years before. Herrick surpasses all his contemporaries as an epigrammatist, both in variety of theme and delicacy of finish, and is almost as supreme in the epigrammatic art as in the lyric. In order to compare his workmanship in these two branches of the poetic art, it may be worth while to bring together his song, To Daffodils, and his epigram on the same flower. Each, in its kind, touches perfection, and the idea is the same in both:
       
Fair daffodils, we weep to see
You haste away so soon;
As yet the early rising sun
Has not attained his noon.
Stay, stay,
Until the hasting day
Has run
But to the evensong;
And, having prayed 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.
We die
As your hours do, and dry
Away,
Like to the summer’s rain,
Or as the pearls of morning’s dew,
Ne’er to be found again.
When a daffodil I see,
Hanging down his head towards me,
Guess I may what I must be:
First, I shall decline my head;
Secondly, I shall be dead;
Lastly, safely buried.
  26

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