Tag Archives: Robert Herrick

The liquefaction of Julia’s clothes

18 Jun

“Gather ye rose buds while ye may” is Robert Herrick’s most famous line.

It’s a call to seize the day, to make the most of our short lives.

The poem’s title is “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” and it advises them not to be coy, but to go marry.

Herrick’s lyrics, written in the 17th century, are charming, life affirming – and often addressed to lovers.

In delightful, easy-to-read verse they celebrate female beauty and sensuality. They sing of the power of love and of total devotion.

There are poems for Sylvia.

For Electra.

For Julia.

For Corinna.

For Anthea.

And none of these women existed.

Or so it’s been claimed.

Herrick lived to his eighties. Eschewing his own advice, he never married – implying an inherently sexist perspective, or the utter irrelevance of poetry.

The second of these possibilities receives insufficient notice nowadays, so let me expand.

Does it matter that Herrick’s impassioned verse was addressed to fictional characters?

Cynics will argue that the object of our affection is always a fiction, a mere projection of our own fantasies, an emotional amusement only made possible by the eternal mutability and essential unknowability of the Other. From a nebulous, swirling cloud of vapour we see the expected rainbow.

But not everyone is a cynic, and if fantasy speaks to us, perhaps it’s because the glory it clothes is ineffable.


Whenas in silks my Julia goes,

Then, then (methinks) how sweetly flows

That liquefaction of her clothes.


Next, when I cast mine eyes, and see

That brave vibration each way free,

O how that glittering taketh me!