Poem for May: Corinna’s going a-maying

by Robert Herrick

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.

Rise and put on your foliage, and be seen
To come forth, like the spring-time, fresh and green,
And sweet as Flora. Take no care
For jewels for your gown or hair :
Fear not ; the leaves will strew
Gems in abundance upon you :
Besides, the childhood of the day has kept,
Against you come, some orient pearls unwept ;
Come and receive them while the light
Hangs on the dew-locks of the night :
And Titan on the eastern hill
Retires himself, or else stands still
Till you come forth. Wash, dress, be brief in praying :
Few beads are best when once we go a-Maying.

Come, my Corinna, come ; and, coming, mark
How each field turns a street, each street a park
Made green and trimm’d with trees : see how
Devotion gives each house a bough
Or branch : each porch, each door ere this
An ark, a tabernacle is,
Made up of white-thorn neatly interwove ;
As if here were those cooler shades of love.
Can such delights be in the street
And open fields and we not see’t ?
Come, we’ll abroad ; and let’s obey
The proclamation made for May :
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying ;
But, my Corinna, come, let’s go a-Maying.

There’s not a budding boy or girl this day
But is got up, and gone to bring in May.
A deal of youth, ere this, is come
Back, and with white-thorn laden home.
Some have despatch’d their cakes and cream
Before that we have left to dream :
And some have wept, and woo’d, and plighted troth,
And chose their priest, ere we can cast off sloth :
Many a green-gown has been given ;
Many a kiss, both odd and even :
Many a glance too has been sent
From out the eye, love’s firmament ;
Many a jest told of the keys betraying
This night, and locks pick’d, yet we’re not a-Maying.

Come, let us go while we are in our prime ;
And take the harmless folly of the time.
We shall grow old apace, and die
Before we know our liberty.
Our life is short, and our days run
As fast away as does the sun ;
And, as a vapour or a drop of rain
Once lost, can ne’er be found again,
So when or you or I are made
A fable, song, or fleeting shade,
All love, all liking, all delight
Lies drowned with us in endless night.
Then while time serves, and we are but decaying,
Come, my Corinna, come, let’s go a-Maying.

I picked this poem for two reasons. First off, I am the early riser in the relationship and I knew I would enjoy reciting the first stanza to the other household resident early in the morning. And I do. Matt also enjoys being called a slug-a-bed, though he pretends not to. Secondly, this is a poem that manages to capture late adolescence quite nicely and at the same time keeps an eye on death. My favorite lines are: Come, let us go while we are in our prime/And take the harmless folly of the time. I’m also a fan of: So when you and I are made/A fable, song, or fleeting shade.

When I memorized the Walrus and the Carpenter I used my usual technique of start at the top, memorize two lines, keep going until you get to the bottom. The result was that I was thoroughly sick of the first half of the poem by the time I got to the end. To this day, I groan when it is time to review that poem. For this poem, I decided to set up a schedule. Week 1, stanzas one and two. Week 2, stanzas three and four. Week 3, stanza five and integrating. Week 4, joining them together and fully memorizing.

However, I was a bit optimistic in my scheduling. The archaic language slowed me down, as usual. It took more than the first week to get the first stanza. I kept to the plan, though. I would get a stanza into my head and then drop it. By the last days of May I was cramming in the last stanza into my head. Amazingly, I remembered the first ones and the whole thing came together nicely. I will use this approach again when I attempt a longer poem.

I did go a-maying once, when I was of the age to go a-maying. May in Boise, Idaho is particularly seductive. The winds have blown away all the winter and the heat of summer is promised, but mostly not yet realized. In short, the weather is perfect for everything outdoors which makes school slightly less interesting, to say the least. When a certain boy proposed skipping the last two classes to go for a drive, I jumped at the chance. German or springtime spent with a boy I might like? The choice was obvious, sorry Frau Needham.

I recall a sort of daring quality in the invitation, and the implication that I had never skipped a class, which was not true, and I told him that as I was accepting. We piled into his car and drove off toward the foothills. The excitement of doing something a little bit bad and being incredibly happy about it probably needs a German word to fit the moment. Perhaps if I had stayed in class that day I would have one ready.

The foothills were gorgeous, covered with spring wildflowers. It being a weekday afternoon, there was also no one about. We drove and chatted and enjoyed the sun and then he drove me home. Nothing happened, which is what I would have told my parents, had they found out. We really did just drive and chat and enjoy the day. It was a perfect day. There was a promise of something more to come, but neither one of us moved toward it. We simply enjoyed each other’s company. We went a-maying.

2 thoughts on “Poem for May: Corinna’s going a-maying”

  1. This is a particularly lovely post, PCC. The writing is simply superb. Well done, you! I, as my comments today would not surprise you, LOVED the sweet slug-a-bed part! I might actually appreciate being called by that moniker! This is a great poem. Now I am dying to know which boy that was…and skipping class, why don't I remember hearing about this adventure?!?!

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