I sing of Brooks, of Blossomes, Birds, and Bowers:
Of April, May, of June, and July-Flowers.
I sing of May-poles, Hock-carts, Wassails, Wakes,
Of Bride-grooms, Brides, and of their Bridall-cakes.
I write of Youth, of Love, and have Accesse
By these, to sing of cleanly-Wantonnesse.
I sing of Dewes, of Raines, and piece by piece
Of Balme, of Oyle, of Spice, and Amber-Greece.
I sing of Times trans-shifting; and I write
How Roses first came Red, and Lillies White.
I write of Groves, of Twilights, and I sing
The Court of Mab, and of the Fairie-King.
I write of Hell; I sing (and ever shall)
Of Heaven, and hope to have it after all.
~ Robert Herrick, “The Argument of His Book”
I briefly touched on the themes of the Cavalier poets yesterday to explain the theme of sensuality running through British poetry. After all, Herrick and Andrew Marvell both wrote poems in the carpe diem
vein–seize the day, ye virgins, because time won’t be kind. Both the best and the worst pick up line in the world, and said in the most dulcet tones. Yet this poem, “The Argument of His Book,” is perhaps my favorite poem by Herrick. I adore the line “By these, to sing of cleanly-Wantonnesse.”
The concept that earthly pleasures are in fact to be enjoyed is still in some ways a unique one. There’s no anguishing here over the effects of wantonness. Just a recognition that time moves forward and so should we. Hatip Andrew Sullivan