Reference > Cambridge History > Cavalier and Puritan > Cavalier Lyrists > Noble Numbers
  Herrick’s epigrams Thomas Carew  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VII. Cavalier and Puritan.

I. Cavalier Lyrists.

§ 8. Noble Numbers.

Herrick’s sacred verses, or Noble Numbers, enlarge our view of his unique personality, but scarcely add to his fame as a poet. He followed the example of Donne in dedicating his powers to religion, when he entered the church; but, unlike Donne, he could not break with the past or change the temper of his mind. His materialistic nature and sensuous fancy are as manifest in many of his religious verses as in his secular, and some of his poetic addresses to God are incongruously like those to his “peculiar Lar.” Donne’s Litany may well have inspired Herrick to write his Litany to the Holy Spirit; but the character of the two priests, as revealed in their respective poems, is entirely different. And if his religious verse is unlike that of Donne, it is still more unlike that of his immediate contemporaries, Herbert, Crashaw, Vaughan or Traherne. The symbolism and soul-scrutiny of Herbert, and the seraphic exaltation of Crashaw, were altogether foreign to Herrick, nor could his mundane temperament hold fellowship with the Celtic mysticism of Vaughan and Traherne. But such poems as His Creed, His Litany to the Holy Spirit and His Thanksgiving to God for his House are a pure delight to us, because of their unaffected naïveté and homely charm, while the practical side of his religion is pleasingly set forth in the verses, To keep a true Lent, and his lyric emotion and powers of imagination find full expression in his beautiful Dirge of Jephthah’s Daughter.   27
  The poems of Herrick, in spite of their author’s self-assurance of immortality, seem to have been treated with scanty respect in the years which followed the publication of Hesperides. Whereas the lyrics of Carew and Suckling passed through several editions in the course of the seventeenth century, no such honour was paid to Hesperides; moreover, the references to Herrick in the biographical and critical writings of Anthony à Wood, Phillips and Winstanley are as meagre as they are misleading. The revival of his poetry began in the closing years of the eighteenth century, since which time his fame has grown so steadily that, at last, he has come to take his place among the greatest of English lyric poets. He lacks, it is true, the highest gift of all—that of touching the deepest chords in human nature, and of rousing men to high purposes and high enthusiasms. But this lack of intensity is common to him and to the renascence lyrists as a whole. For the renascence song is that of a nation still in its childhood, unconscious, as yet, of conflicting emotions or complexity of thought, and knowing nothing of the burden of modernity. It is the holiday lyric of men who were content to fleet the time carelessly, in a golden world of their own imagination; whose philosophy was but to seize the day, and gather the rosebuds of life while youth and summer sunshine were still theirs. This is the temper of the songs of Marlowe, Shakespeare and Breton, and—though the horizon of their poetic vision is changed and contracted—of those of Carew and Suckling. And, among all these singers of a day when England was a nest of singing-birds, Herrick reigns as king.   28

  Herrick’s epigrams Thomas Carew  

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