Home » Early Modern Lit » Happy May Day

Happy May Day

Image“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 dress’d ;
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,
Whereas a thousand virgins on this day
Spring, sooner than the lark, to fetch in May.”

— Corinna’s Going A-Maying

Robert Herrick (1591-1674), though a bachelor and a country parson most of his adult life, was a tremendous fan of rural fertility festivals and all the joys that came along with them. Scholars have long struggled to reconcile his religious profession with his frankly erotic verses (see “The Vine” for a poem that would make any modern teenager blush), but I see no contradiction here. Herrick lived during a time when everyone knew that life was short and pleasures few. The delights of the imagination, he suggests, are innocent, and beautiful, sensual language only honors the gifts of the creator. Herrick wrote his sermons for God but for himself he indulged in playful verse that celebrated life, love, food, and festivity.

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