ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

"To Daffodils": A Poem by Robert Herrick

Updated on September 25, 2019
John Welford profile image

John is a retired librarian who writes articles based on material gleaned mainly from obscure books and journals.

Robert Herrick

Robert Herrick (1591-1674) had a long life that included dangerous adventure (he was fortunate to survive the siege of Saint-Martin-de-Ré in 1627) and quiet retreat as a country parson in South Devon. He published some 1,400 poems in his 1648 collection entitled “Hesperides”, and possibly wrote another thousand after that date. Despite his calling he was not over-religious, and most of his poems, if they mention religious matters at all, do so almost as an afterthought. He was a hedonist by temperament and his lyrics describe, compliment and express thoughts of love, as opposed to preaching or exploring deep theological concepts. To quote from the opening “Argument” of Hesperides:


I sing of brooks, of blossoms, birds and bowers,

Of April, May, of June, and July flowers;

I sing of may-poles, hock-carts, wassails, wakes,

Of bridegrooms, brides, and of their bridal cakes …

(and so on)

"To Daffodils"

“To Daffodils” is a typical Herrick poem in that it implies that one should enjoy the here and now because the future will bring problems and misery. It presents the same thoughts as in his poem “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time”, which begins with the well-known lines:


Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old Time is still a-flying:

And this same flower that smiles to-day

To-morrow will be dying.


In the case of the two-stanza poem under discussion, for rosebuds read daffodils.

Stanza One

Fair daffodils, we weep to see

You haste away so soon;

As yet the early-rising sun

Has not attained his noon.

Stay, stay

Until the hasting day

Has run

But to the evensong;

And, having prayed together, we

Will go with you along.


The poet has presumably noticed that the spring daffodils, possibly growing in his churchyard, are starting to die off, and he wishes that they would at least stay unshrivelled for the hours of daylight. He then associates them with evensong and prayer, expressing the hope that the congregation will be able to see the flowers still in bloom as they leave church.

There is an interesting hint, worthy of a “metaphysical” poet, that the daffodils, as they droop, are engaged in prayer alongside the parishioners. This depends on the ambiguity of “prayed together”, which could be taken as meaning just the church congregation or including the daffodils as well.

Stanza Two

We have short time to stay as you,

We have as short a spring;

As quick a growth to meet decay,

As you, or anything.

We die

As your hours do, and dry

Away

Like to the summer’s rain;

Or as the pearls of morning’s dew,

Ne’er to be found again.


Humankind is likened to the daffodil in the shortness of its lifespan, with growth followed immediately by decline and eventual death. Of course, Herrick is speaking in relative terms, but his readers would be familiar with the concept of human life being compared with that of plant life as far as its temporary nature is concerned; the well-known verses from the Sermon on the Mount (St Matthew’s Gospel 6:28-30) about the “lilies of the field” that are growing one day and “tomorrow are thrown into the furnace” would have struck a chord.

However, Herrick merely points to the comparison without labouring the point. He has already alluded to the best-known sermon ever preached and does not need to offer one of his own.

Indeed, it is surprising that Herrick does not make any reference to an afterlife for either daffodil or man. There is nothing here about hopes to bloom again next year, or of heavenly rewards for the righteous. As far as man is concerned he is just like “summer’s rain” or “morning’s dew” in that he is “ne’er to be found again”. In other words, apart from the references to prayer in the first stanza, this is a poem that could have been written as easily by an atheist as by a country parson.

As mentioned above, this is a “carpe diem” (“seize the day”) poem that points to the inevitability of decay and death but with no hint of any obligation to earn a place in the afterlife by living a godly existence now. There is also nothing of the “do it now” urging of “To the Virgins” (expressed even more explicitly by Andrew Marvell in “To His Coy Mistress”). In “To Daffodils” it is simply a straightforward presentation of the facts, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)