‘Upon Julia’s Clothes’ is one of several poems that Cavalier poet Robert Herrick wrote about someone named “Julia”. Others include ‘Upon Julia’s Breasts’ and ‘Upon Julia’s Hair Filled with Dew’. These poems, like ‘Upon Julia’s Clothes’ eroticize this woman though images that might today not seem particularly sexual. The poem was first published in Hesperides, Herrick’s 1648 collection. This massive volume contains 1,100 poems in total, although many of them are quite short.
Historically, scholars are unsure who “Julia” was or if she was a real person at all. The name might stand in for Herrick’s idealized woman or could represent any number of women he knew in his life.
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Summary of Upon Julia’s Clothes
The speaker expresses his longing for Julia by describing the water-like nature of her clothes. He is especially aroused when she wears silk and he can watch the way it moves over her body.
Structure of Upon Julia’s Clothes
‘Upon Julia’s Clothes’ by Robert Herrick is a two stanza poem that is divided into sets of three lines, known as tercets. These tercets follow a rhyme scheme of AAA BBB. In total, the poem only contains two sentences. This poem, and others like it, are known as blazons. This is a kind of poem that praises a woman’s body in order to compliment her more generally.
Without reading too far into this poem it is very clear through the use of language that it is far from modern. The poet uses words such as “Whenas” and “methinks,” dating this poem to the 1600s when it was written. This elevated language also serves to make the speaker’s statements about Julia feel more elegant and less lusty.
Literary Devices in Upon Julia’s Clothes
Despite the brevity of this poem Herrick makes use of several literary devices in ‘Upon Julia’s Clothes’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, metaphor, and imagery. The latter is one of the most important techniques at work in the poem. Imagery refers to the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses. Traditionally, the word “image” is related to visual sights, things that a reader can imagine seeing, but imagery is much more than that. It is something one can sense with their five senses. For example, the use of words like “glittering” and “vibration” in the second stanza. Both of these help paint a very clear picture of this woman and how the speaker feels about her.
Sibilance is similar to alliteration but it is concerned with soft vowel sounds such as “s” and “th”. This kind of repetition usually results in a prolonged hissing or rushing sound. It is often used to mimic another sound, like water, wind, or any kind of fluid movement. For instance, “silk” and “sweetly” in lines one and two of the first stanza.
A metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things that does not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. In this case, the poet uses a metaphor to compare the woman’s clothes to water. He uses words like “flow” and the phrase “That liquefaction of her clothes”.
Analysis of Upon Julia’s Clothes
Whenas in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then (methinks) how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.
Before starting this poem it is important to know that the word “Upon” in the title might alternatively be read as “About”. He is speaking on the topic of Julia’s clothes. But, as stated in the “Structure” section of this analysis, he is in reality displaying his lust-filled thoughts for her.
In the first lines of ‘Upon Julia’s Clothes,’ the speaker begins by using the word “Whenas”. This is an antiquated way of saying “when something happened”. In this case, when Julia wears silk then he perceives them as flowing like water. The fabric moves over her body in an entrancing way. It “flows” “sweetly” over her or so he thinks. The repetition of the word “then” in line two helps convey the speaker’s tone and passion. He is caught up in the memory and emotion of this sight.
Next, when I cast mine eyes, and see
That brave vibration each way free,
O how that glittering taketh me!
The second stanza changes the end rhyme to the long “e” vowel sound in “see,” “free,” and “me”. Herrick’s speaker, who may be Herrick himself, states without much detail how he is “taken” by the sight of the “vibration” of her clothes. It is important to note that while he is appreciating the clothes themselves he is truly speaking about her body underneath them. It is only due to his sexual longing for this woman that he has any interest in talking about her clothes at all.