Form in Herrick’s “Corinna’s Going A-Maying” Essay
Robert Herrick combines the use of form and literary devices to create a seemingly light-hearted poem which is full of suggestively political and sexual connotations. Overall, the fourteen-line stanzas are very consistently structures: two longer lines alternated with four shorter lines, the rhyme occurring in couplets. The regularity of the structure, as well as the consistent alternation in line length creates the appearance of song verses or nursery-rhymes, which is one way in which the author creates a light-hearted tone.
This consistency only breaks down at the end, where, at the end of the stanza, there are three short lines and three long lines, instead of four and two, respectively. This break reflects the change in tone. The last stanza, in stark contrast to the preceding verses which portray love and merriment, includes many images of death. For instance, it describes how Corinna and the speaker will become like “fleeting shade (66)” and how they are even presently “decaying (69). ” Thus, it is almost as if the form alters in this last stanza because it is disrupted by the sudden change in imagery.
Additionally, Herrick includes this one inconsistency in an otherwise strictly regular poem in order to draw the reader’s attention to the last few lines. It is in these lines that the author summarizes the message of the poem and the carpe diem theme which is recurrent throughout much of his poetry: “Then while time serves, and we are but decaying, / Come, my Corinna, come, let’s go a-Maying (69-70). ” The light-hearted tone of the poem is created not only by the verse-like patterns of its stanza structure, but also through repetition, sound devices, and word choice.
There are many instances of repetition in this poem. In fact, it appears in the very first line: “Get up! get up for shame! ” The repetition of “get up” creates, right from the start, the joyful tone of a holiday morning. Another example is the first line of the third stanza (line 29), in which the repetition of “come” has a hypnotizing humming effect, reminiscent of both music and eager playfulness. Sound devices, such as the assonance of lines 30 and 31 (field, street, each, green, trees, etc. ) also add to the lyrical nature of the poem.
In addition to the musicality of the lines, word-choice plays a strong part in creating a happy tone. The jocular use of “slug-a-bed” in line 5, for instance, reflects the playfulness of the author and subject. Also, more serious topics, such as “prayer” and “sin,” are inserted into a context which deflates the weight of their typical connotations. For example, observe lines 10 through 12: “When all the birds have matins said, / And sung their thankful hymns: ‘tis sin, / Nay, profanation to keep in…
” Prayers and hymns, which are usually solemn daily rituals, are attributed to birds, thus decreasing their serious associations. Similarly, to equate staying in bed with “sins” and “profanations” is to mockingly make light of the usual gravity of these words. In this way, the author maintains the light-hearted tone of his speaker on this holiday, while also extending his playfulness to the outside world, as if no over-shadowing force can possibly exist or come to ruin the festivity.
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