When one reaches for a book to take on a trip there might be any number of reasons for making a choice, but undoubtedly preeminent for me is company. I find that more often than not I take Herrick. And I have wondered why this is. Part of the reason is that he is at once familiar, and so I bring the familiar with me as one might a friend, but he remains somewhat enigmatic. I have been reading his Hesperidesfor longer than I care to recall, and it is not as if I haven't finished reading it so much as it seems never to have finished. Part of this is the haphazard way I read, but a lot must be laid at the feet of Herrick and his idiosyncratic book, which meanders and restarts, 1 and even seems to end a good many times before it runs out of poems. Titles appear and reappear, he famously bids a solemn "farewell to sack"2 and perhaps less famously welcomes it back thirty pages later without a hint of contradiction. He acknowledges the great (clearly in a civil war era his dedications to the King are a political statement) as well as the unknown, the historical alongside the fictional. His works wander from bawdy Anacreontics to scurrilous Martialian epigrams to heartbreaking Jonsonian elegies. It is the most inclusive of books, and the most unruly. It is delightfully disordered, and as such it remains endlessly expansive, ever open, always new. In short it is great company.
This document was originally published by Edinburgh University Press in Ben Jonson Journal. Copyright restrictions may apply. DOI: 10.3366/bjj.2013.0085
Corless-Smith, Martin. (2013). "Herrick's Wild Civility". Ben Jonson Journal, 20(2), 273-282.