Robert Herick, John Suckling, & Richard Lovelace


Robert Herrick's Biography

(1591-1674), was one of England's finest lyric poets. He is best known for his love lyrics to imaginary ladies and graceful poems about nature and English country life. Herrick celebrated the earthy joys of rural life in such poems as "Corinna's Going A-Maying," "The Argument of His Book," and "To Daffodils." In "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time," he cleverly adapts the New Testament parable of the 10 virgins to the classical theme of carpe diem ("seize the day"). The poem contains the famous line "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may." Herrick's lyric poetry reflects the influence of Roman poets and the English poet and playwright Ben Jonson.
Herrick was born in London. He was ordained in the Church of England in 1623 and served as a vicar (minister of a parish) in the rural county of Devonshire (now Devon). Herrick's poems were widely known in manuscript form before being published in the collection Hesperides (1648).

Herrick's "Ode to Him" (Ben Jonson)

Ah Ben!
Say how, or when
Shall we thy guests
Meet at those lyric feasts
Made at the Sun,
The Dog, the Triple Tun?
Where we such clusters had
As made us nobly wild, not mad;
And yet each verse of thine
Outdid the meat, outdid the frolic wine.

My Ben
Or come again,
Or send to us
Thy wit's great overplus;
But teach us yet
Wisely to husband it;
Lest we that talent spend,
And having once brought to an end
That precious stock, the store
Of such a wit the world should have no more.

"Ode to Him" Discussion Questions

1. Has someone been a great source of inspiration in your life? Explain.
2. What question is asked in the first 6 lines?
3. In lines 11-16, what does the speaker ask of Ben? In lines 17-20, what risks does the speaker describe if Ben does not respond?
4. In what ways were the speaker and others Ben Jonson’s guests?
5. The tone of this poem is melancholy. What words, phrases, and thoughts contribute to setting this melancholy tone?

Herrick's "To the Virgins to Make Much of Time"

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the Sun,
The higher he's a-getting
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times, still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time;
And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.

"To the Virgins to Make Much of Time"
Discussion Questions

1. Do you agree with the speaker’s claim that youth is the best time of life? Why or why not?
2. In stanza 1, why does the speaker advise the girls to gather rosebuds while they may?
3. According to stanza 3, what age is the best age, and what happens when it is passed?
4. In stanza 4, why does the speaker suggest that the young girls stop delaying and marry?
5. The central theme of this poem is the swift passage of time. What images express this theme?

Sir John Suckling's Biography

(1609-1642), was the most famous member of the Cavalier poets, a group associated with the court of King Charles I of England. In his famous comedy The Way of the World (1700), William Congreve called the poet "natural, easy Suckling." Suckling was notorious for his wild living and his best verse has a witty and knowing quality. Suckling's plays include Aglaura (1637). His short poems were published four years after his death in a collection of his writings titled Fragmenta Aurea. Suckling's ability as a literary critic can be seen in "A Session of Poets" (1637), a verse review of poetry in his day.
Suckling was born in Middlesex (now part of London), and served in the army. In 1641, he was accused of plotting to gain control of the army for the king. He fled to Paris and died there, perhaps having poisoned himself.

Suckling's "The Constant Lover"

OUT upon it, I have loved
Three whole days together!
And am like to love three more,
If it prove fair weather.

Time shall moult away his wings
Ere he shall discover
In the whole wide world again
Such a constant lover.

But the spite on 't is, no praise
Is due at all to me:
Love with me had made no stays,
Had it any been but she.

Had it any been but she,
And that very face,
There had been at least ere this
A dozen dozen in her place.

"The Constant Lover"
Discussion Questions

1. What is your opinion of this “constant lover”? Explain.
2. According to lines 3 and 4, what conditions are necessary for the speaker to continue to love?
3. In the second stanza, how long will it be before Time will find a lover as faithful as the speaker?
4. According to stanza 3, what reason does the speaker give for not leaving his lady for another “dozen dozen” women?
6. The poem is an elaborate compliment to a lady. What are the elements that contribute to this compliment?
7. What attitudes toward love and the woman are evident? In what way is the word “constant” ironic in the title?
8. What is being personified in stanza 2 and how does this apply to the poem as a whole?

Suckling's "Song"

WHY so pale and wan, fond lover?
Prithee, why so pale?
Will, when looking well can't move her,
Looking ill prevail? Prithee, why so pale?

Why so dull and mute, young sinner?
Prithee, why so mute?
Will, when speaking well can't win her,
Saying nothing do 't? Prithee, why so mute?

Quit, quit for shame!
This will not move;
This cannot take her.
If of herself she will not love,
Nothing can make her:
The devil take her!

Discussion Questions

1. Do you agree with the speaker’s advice? Explain
2. In stanza 1, how does the lover look?
3. In stanza 2, what is the question the speaker asks?
4. How is stanza 3 different from the first two stanzas?
5. What caused the “fond lover” to look and behave the way that the speaker described?
6. What do you think is the lover’s actual emotional state? Explain.

Richard Lovelace’s Biography

(1618-1657), was a member of a group of English lyric poets called the Cavalier poets. These poets emphasized ideals of love, beauty, and honor. Lovelace is known chiefly for a few famous lines. "Stone walls do not a prison make,/Nor iron bars a cage" comes from the poem "To Althea, from Prison" (1642). "I could not love thee, dear, so much,/Loved I not honor more" appears in the poem "To Lucasta, Going to the Wars" (1648).
Lovelace was born either in Woolwich or in the Netherlands. He was educated at Oxford University. Lovelace served as a soldier in the army of King Charles I. He was imprisoned twice during the civil war that broke out in 1642. He wrote his two famous poems in prison. Lovelace lost his estate while he was serving the king, and he died in poverty.

Lovelace's "To Lucasta, on Going to the Wars"

Tell me not (Sweet) I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
To war and arms I fly.

True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.

Yet this inconstancy is such
As you too shall adore;
I could not love thee (Dear) so much,
Lov'd I not Honour more.

"To Lucasta, on Going to the Wars"
Discussion Questions

1. In the first stanza of "To Lucasta, on Going to the Wars," from whom is the speaker going and toward what is he "flying"
2. In the second stanza, whom does the speaker chase and what will he embrace?
3. According to the last stanza, why will the abandoned lady "adore" the speaker's "inconstancy"?
4. What is the "new mistress" the speaker refers to in the second stanza?
5. What do you believe is the "stronger faith" mentioned by the speaker in line 7?
6. What does the speaker mean when he says in lines 11-12, "I could not love thee, Dear, so much / Loved I not honor more"?
7. This poem is an argument made by the speaker to his lady-love in an effort to convince her to accept his leaving her for war. What details in the poem support this interpretation?

Lovelace's "To Althea, from Prison"

When Love with unconfined wings
Hovers within my gates,
And my divine Althea brings
To whisper at the grates;
When I lie tangled in her hair,
And fetter'd to her eye,
The gods, that wanton in the air,
Know no such liberty.

When flowing cups run swiftly round
With no allaying Thames,
Our careless heads with roses bound,
Our hearts with loyal flames;
When thirsty grief in wine we steep,
When healths and draughts go free,
Fishes, that tipple in the deep,
Know no such liberty.

When (like committed linnets) I
With shriller throat shall sing
The sweetness, mercy, majesty,
And glories of my king;
When I shall voice aloud how good
He is, how great should be,
Enlarged winds, that curl the flood,
Know no such liberty.

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.

"To Althea, from Prison"
Discussion Questions

1. According to lines 1-4, where is the god Love hovering? Where is the "divine Althea" whispering?
2. In lines 5-8, what does the speaker say gives him the greatest freedom? What conditions does the speaker describe in the second stanza as yielding the greatest freedom?
3. In the third stanza, when will the speaker know the greatest "liberty"?
4. What, in the last stanza, does the speaker say is required to enable him to enjoy the maximum freedom? What or who does the speaker say in the first three stanzas will experience no greater freedom than he? To what does the speaker compare his freedom in the last stanza?
5. The conditions for the speaker's freedom form a progressive movement in the first three stanzas. What is that movement? Summarize the speaker's conception of freedom.
6. In seventeenth-century England, part of the conflict between King Charles I and his rebellious Parliament was over freedom. Charles wanted to rule by "divine right," which meant basically that he could do as he wished. Parliament wished to take that right away from him. To Charles, this meant a loss of freedom. The Puritans in Parliament, on the other hand, felt that Charles had tried to take away their freedom of religion. From their point of view, it was either his freedom or their freedom that was at stake. In what way does Lovelace's poem, "To Althea," reflect this issue? Why does each stanza turn on the idea of "liberty"?
7. Some critics have called "To Althea" a love poem; others have said it was an expression of devotion to King Charles. Which interpretation do you believe is right and why?