In this famous carpe diem poem, the speaker urges his beloved, Corinna, to arise from bed and participate in the joyful May Day celebrations that are already ongoing. He tells her about the natural beauty of the day she has already missed and tells her of the delights of romantic love she can experience if she goes with him before finally turning to the fleeting nature of life to argue for her to go a-Maying.
Corinna's Going A-Maying Robert HerrickGet 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 drest; 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 betrayingThis 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 drown'd with us in endless night. Then, while time serves, and we are but decaying, Come, my Corinna, come, let's go a-Maying.
Explore Corinna's Going A-Maying
“Carpe diem” is a phrase from Latin meaning “seize the day.” In poems with the theme of carpe diem, the poet urges action, as life is fleeting — every day that passes by is another opportunity lost. Carpe diem poems are usually addressed to youths. Often, they are love poems specifically addressed to a young woman, as is the case in Herrick’s poem to Corinna. In that aspect, poems like ‘Corinna’s Going A-Maying‘ are poems of seduction.
In the first stanza, the speaker repeatedly urges Corinna to get up from bed and come join the festivities of Maying with him. The natural beauty of the day and how much Corinna is missing by staying in bed are emphasized. In the fourth stanza, the speaker describes the delights of romantic love Corinna can enjoy if she gets up. In the last stanza, however, the light tone of the poem changes, as the speaker argues that it is because of the inevitability of death that Corinna should get up and go a-Maying. This final stanza changes the sense of the entire poem significantly.
Despite the “going” of the title, Corinna never plays any active role in the poem. By the end of the poem, she still lies in bed, in exactly the same position as when the poem began. The speaker’s arguments for why Corinna should arise develop as the poem proceeds, but Corinna remains a static, passive figure. The “going” of the title represents the speaker’s wish and command but not, apparently, Corinna’s action.
Carpe diem might seem a relatively simple theme for a poem. However, in ‘Corinna’s Going A-Maying,’ Robert Herrick uses the carpe diem form to explore several other ideas that deepen the primary theme. Herrick juxtaposes pagan and Christian elements in the poem in interesting ways. Nature and bodily delights are celebrated rather than Christian morality. The sensual, naturalistic content of the poem is clear.
Finally, the nature of human existence, especially how fleeting and ephemeral it is, is explored in the final stanza, a stanza that arguably subverts the celebration of living in the moment seen in the earlier stanzas.
Born in 1591, Robert took holy orders in 1623. Despite being a member of the clergy, many of Herrick’s poems, including ‘Corinna’s Going A-Maying,’ are love poems with a significant sensual emphasis. Herrick was a lifelong bachelor who wrote love poems addressed to different women. Whether the Corinna of ‘Corinna’s Going A-Maying‘ was a real woman or simply a product of Herrick’s imagination is not known, but in light of the many different female names Herrick used, she was probably imaginary.
In ‘Corinna’s Going A-Maying‘ the clergyman Herrick not only mixes Greek mythology with Christian elements but even pagan traditions rooted in pre-Christian England as well. May Day originated as a pagan ritual dedicated to fertility, spring, and the renewal of nature. Whatever Herrick’s actual beliefs, ‘Corinna’s Going A-Maying‘ does not present anything in line with standard Christian doctrine.
Structure and Form
‘Corinna’s Going A-Maying‘ consists of five stanzas that follow the same structure and form. Each of the five stanzas has 14 lines that follow a couplet rhyming scheme, with adjacent lines being rhymed with each other. This simple rhyming scheme adds to the musical quality of the poem, as it takes little time for the reader to discover the words that are paired together through rhyme.
Not all lines in the poem follow the same meter, however. In each stanza, there are two lines of iambic pentameter, followed by four shorter lines in iambic tetrameter. The pattern of two lines of iambic and four of tetrameter repeats itself once before a final couplet in iambic pentameter finishes up each stanza.
One of the literary devices used by Herrick in ‘Corinna’s Going A-Maying‘ that stands out is anaphora. Anaphora is the repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of successive lines, sentences, or phrases. In the fourth stanza, anaphora is used in these three lines:
“Many a green-gown has been given;
Many a kisse, both odde and even:
Many a glance too has been sent”
The repetition of “many” acts brings attention to the word, of course, thereby placing further emphasis on the volume of displays of love that are being shown while Corinna remains in bed. Anaphora is also seen in the opening words of the third stanza: “Come, my Corinna, come; and coming,” phrasing that makes plain the speaker’s wish for his command to be followed and at the beginning of the poem itself — “Get up, get up for shame.” Finally, the fourth line from the close of the poem is another example of anaphora — “all love, all liking, all delight.”
Another literary device prominent in the poem is personification, which particularly plays a role in the opening stanzas, which are much occupied with the natural world. An example is when the speaker says, “Each Flower has wept.” Another example of attributing to something non-human human characteristics or actions is when the birds are said to have already completed their morning prayers and “sung their thankful Hymnes.”
Get up, get up for shame, the Blooming Morne
Upon her wings presents the god unshorne.
See how Aurora throwes her faire
Fresh-quilted colours through the aire:
Get up, sweet-Slug-a-bed, and see
The Dew-bespangling Herbe and Tree.
Each Flower has wept, and bow’d toward the East,
Above an houre since; yet you not drest,
Nay! not so much as out of bed?
When all the Birds have Mattens seyd,
And sung their thankful Hymnes: ’tis sin,
Nay, profanation to keep in,
When as a thousand Virgins on this day,
Spring, sooner than the Lark, to fetch in May.
In the first stanza of ‘Corinna’s Going A-Maying,’ the speaker tells Corinna to arise from the bed as the morning has already long dawned. Most of the stanza is made up of lines emphasizing just how late it already is, thus creating a sense of urgency. The “god unshorne” of the second line is Apollo, who, besides being a god of music and prophecy, was the god of the sun as well. Aurora is the Roman goddess of the dawn.
Corinna is chastised for not being out of bed even though flowers, birds, and young people (the “thousand Virgins) have all already been up for some time. “Mattens” (now spelled ‘matins’) is a Christian prayer said in the darkness of the early morning. Though in the first line, the speaker says it is a “shame” Corinna is not up, he also addresses her with the affectionate term “sweet-Slug-a-bed.”
One of the fascinating elements of this initial stanza is the way Herrick uses religious terms and imagery in his urging for Corinna to arise. Herrick uses language in this stanza to effectively redefine what “sin” and “profanation” are. The birds who have said their prayers and sung “thankful Hymnes” do so, it would seem, to nature, rather than the Christian God. To the speaker, what would be profane and sinful would be to not participate in the joyous rites of May.
Rise; and put on your Foliage, and be seene
To come forth, like the Spring-time, fresh and greene;
And sweet as Flora. Take no care
For Jewels for your Gowne, or Haire:
Feare not; the leaves will strew
Gemms 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 himselfe, or else stands still
Till you come forth. Wash, dresse, be briefe in praying:
Few Beads are best, when once we goe a Maying.
In the second stanza, the speaker continues to urge Corinna to rise. He says she should be like the Spring, with the “Foliage” of nature being a metaphor for Corinna’s clothing. “Flora” is the Roman goddess of flowers and spring itself. Rather than spending time putting on jewels, Corinna can let the leaves be strewn on her like jewels.
The “Orient Pearls” are drops of dew that appear like pearls in the light of the sun. The “Titan” mentioned is another mythological reference to the sun, as indicated by Titan standing on the “Eastern hill.” The speaker ends the stanza by urging Corinna to wash, dress, and pray quickly; “beads” refers to prayer beads used in Christian prayer.
This stanza largely continues in the themes of the first stanza. The activity of nature, while Corinna continues to lie in bed, is again emphasized. One change is that the speaker begins to paint a picture of what it will be like for Corinna once she arises. In the first half of the stanza, the speaker compliments Corinna by telling her how lovely she will look when she gets up.
He compares her to a goddess, saying she will be as “fresh and greene” and “sweet as Flora.” The last couplet is important for how they recommend active participation in Maying over the Christian ritual.
Come, my Corinna, come; and comming, marke
How each field turns a street; each street a Parke
Made green, and trimm’d with trees: see how
Devotion gives each House a Bough,
Or Branch: Each Porch, each doore, ere this,
An Arke a Tabernacle is
Made up of white-thorn neatly enterwove;
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 obay
The Proclamation made for May:
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;
But my Corinna, come, let’s goe a Maying.
In this third stanza, the speaker tells Corinna to come and see how the celebrations of May Day have transformed streets into natural fields and parks. The devotion of the people to Maying has changed the houses of the village into something holy, like the Ark of the Covenant of the Old Testament. The speaker asks Corinna if he and she can really not go and see such things. Again he urges her to arise by stating that staying away would be a sin.
Continuing on in the third stanza of ‘Corinna’s Going A-Maying,’ the celebrations of May Day are again described in religious terms. The people of the town are apparently devoted to Maying as someone would be to something from a religion. Herrick boldly compares these celebrations of the natural world to the holiest thing in the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant, which was considered the dwelling place of God. Apparently, Maying is a source of the divine to the speaker.
Interestingly, in this stanza, the speaker extends the sin of staying away from the Maying to himself, not just Corinna — “we have done” the sin. There is arguably a paradox in the speaker devoting so much time and effort to making the case for an unresponsive Corinna to arise. If he believed so strongly in the importance of seizing the day, wouldn’t it make more sense to leave Corinna and rush to the Maying himself? Perhaps that he does not is a tribute to his devotion to Corinna.
There’s not a budding Boy, or Girle, this day,
But is got up, and gone to bring in May.
A deale of Youth, ere this, is come
Back, and with White-thorn laden home.
Some have dispatcht their Cakes and Creame,
Before that we have left to dreame:
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 kisse, both odde and even:
Many a glance too has been sent
From out the eye, Loves Firmament:
Many a jest told of the Keyes betraying
This night, and Locks pickt, yet w’are not a Maying.
In the fourth stanza, the apex of the seductive, romantic element of the poem is reached. In the first three stanzas, it has been mainly nature that has been celebrated. Aside from Corinna and the speaker himself, human figures have made a scant appearance. But now the speaker tells Corinna that every boy and girl has already gone to Maying and that many have already returned to enjoy the delights of “Cakes and Creame.”
Furthermore, some have already wooed each other, declared their love, and found a priest to marry them. Many kisses and suggestive glances have been exchanged too. Jokes about picking or breaking locks at night (presumably for purposes of seduction) have also been told.
The fourth stanza is immediately notable because it is the one stanza of the five in the poem where the speaker does not explicitly urge Corinna to arise. Rather, he focuses completely on portraying for her all that is going on out in the world while he and her do nothing.
The speaker focuses on the delights of love that Corinna is missing out on by staying in bed. There is an irony here, as many carpe diem poems are about getting a girl into bed, while here, the speaker attempts the opposite.
Instead of getting Corinna alone, the speaker wants her to go out with the larger community, that is, the rest of the village. It would seem the speaker’s intentions for Corinna are honorable, as he mentions couples finding a priest to marry them, implying he and Corinna should do the same. However, in the mentions of “Cakes and Creame” and kissing, sensual, physical pleasures are certainly emphasized too.
The phrase in the opening line of the fourth stanza, “budding Boy, or Girle,” is crucial. Young men and women are metaphorically compared to the emerging bud of a plant. By implication, youths are extensions of nature. They are aspects of the natural world rather than being separated from natural life. The focus on and celebration of nature is a consistent theme of the poem.
However, for the first time in the poem as well, the speaker describes events that cannot actually be completed in so short a time as a single morning. To proceed through all the ups and downs of courtship — weeping, wooing, becoming engaged, and choosing a priest to get married by — would not be remotely possible in a few hours. Instead of a realistic depiction of what might occur on a May Day morning, the speaker is now looking into the future that, presumably, he and Corinna might eventually have if they went out a-Maying.
Come, let us goe, while we are in our prime;
And take the harmlesse follie of the time.
We shall grow old apace, and die
Before we know our liberty.
Our life is short; and our dayes run
As fast away as do’s the Sunne:
And as a vapour, or a drop of raine
Once lost, can ne’r be found againe:
So when or you or I are made
A fable, song, or fleeting shade;
All love, all liking, all delight
Lies drown’d with us in endlesse night.
Then while time serves, and we are but decaying;
Come, my Corinna, come, let’s goe a Maying.
In the fifth stanza, an entirely new tone is introduced, as the speaker argues that the inevitability of death is why he and Corinna should go a-Maying. While they are still in the prime of their lives, before they grow old and die, they should join in the harmless foolishness of their time. Life is short and, like a drop of rain, cannot be found once lost. All love and pleasure will be lost in the “endlesse night” that follows death. The speaker ends the poem by once again urging Corinna to go a-Maying with him, this time resting his argument on the fact that they are not yet dead but only decaying.
The fifth and final stanza of ‘Corinna’s Going A-Maying‘ contains some of the most memorable lines of the whole poem. Evocative metaphors are used to emphasize the fleeting, transitory, ephemeral nature of human life, such as when human life is compared to a “vapour.” Corinna and the reader are reminded of how little, in the speaker’s view, a person can survive the grave. Only memories in the minds of the living (as a “fable” or “song”) or some weak existence as a “fleeting shade” are apparently possible. And after death, there is only “endlesse night.”
Of course, these lines are notable because they imply there is no life after death. Again, the speaker’s views deviate far from Christianity, even though Herrick was a member of the clergy. In this poem, the natural world is the paradigm. Human beings are considered, in natural terms, as parts of nature. Nature is sacralized but without any spiritual existence outside of the natural world affirmed.
If the fourth stanza begins by looking into the future, past the events of the May Day morning, the fifth stanza pushes that process to its culmination by looking toward the time when Corinna and the speaker will die. This is a major change from the first three stanzas and a huge jump forward in time, from the concerns of the particular morning of May Day to the whole span of human existence.
In the final stanza, the sudden turn to focus on mortality and death arguably subverts the speaker’s message that living in the moment is wise. It’s certainly hard to imagine a somber stanza like this resulting in Corinna (or any reader of the poem) being put in the mood for the joyous, hedonistic celebrations of May Day. Reflecting on the reality of death usually puts a person in a serious mood. From the perspective of a man trying to seduce the object of his desire, reminding her she is “decaying” seems plainly a poor strategy.
In other words, this final stanza throws the preceding stanzas and the entire poem as a whole into a different light. The earlier message is, at the very least, made ambiguous, if not completely subverted, by what Herrick does in the last stanza. This is particularly so because of a key phrase in the second line, “harmless follie.” In stark contrast to the first four stanzas, the speaker now dismisses the Maying as mere folly (even if harmless folly). This is in keeping with the entire tone of the fifth stanza. Any and all human activities are made to seem of little use or value by the emphasis on how ephemeral and insubstantial human beings are at all.
The speaker urges his beloved (the Corinna of the title) and, by extension, the reader to seize the day and live for the moment. However, this message is arguably undercut in the final stanza, which introduces a decidedly somber note by focusing on death and the fleeting nature of life.
Yes, Robert Herrick is considered a Cavalier poet. The Cavalier poets were those who supported Charles I during the English Civil War. Like others in the group, Robert Herrick suffered when Charles I was deposed, being removed from his post as a vicar. He got his post back when the monarchy was restored.
While the first four stanzas of the poem have a light tone and focus on pleasant topics, it is hard to say a poem is entirely happy in the mood when it has lines like this near its conclusion: “All love, all liking, all delight/ Lies drown’d with us in endlesse night.” The poem ends with somber reminders of mortality.
Readers who find ‘Corinna’s Going A-Maying‘ may also find these poems worth looking at:
- Robert Herrick‘s ‘To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time‘ is another carpe diem poem by the poet. It is probably Herrick’s most famous work and one of the most well-known carpe diem poems in the English language.
- ‘To His Coy Mistress‘ by Andrew Marvell is another very famous carpe diem poem from the 17th century. However, Marvell takes a more ironic and even mocking approach to his subject matter than Herrick.
- ‘Delight in Disorder‘ is another poem by Herrick that has love as a major theme. This poem is about how a woman’s disordered dress is more pleasing to the speaker than when all her clothing is precisely in place.
- In ‘To Find God‘ examines the natural world and asks the reader if they can find God in the constituent parts of nature. The contrast between how Herrick treats religious matters in this poem and ‘Corinna’s Going A-Maying’ is notable.