Robert Herrick Biography
Robert Herrick, a poet who found his poetic inspiration in the pagan poets, especially Anacreon, Horace, Catullus, and Martial and who was in his youth associated with Ben Jonson and his witty followers, would hardly seem to have been suited for a career in the Church and even less so for a rural parish. Indeed, Herrick was deeply dissatisfied with his ignorant country congregation and regarded his Devonshire residence as a punishment. He found some consolation, nevertheless, in the pagan qualities of the local songs and dances, and he loved his pet menagerie, particularly the pig he taught to drink.
Herrick was born in London in 1591, about the time William Shakespeare began to write for the stage, and he died in the same year as John Milton. Herrick’s father, a prosperous goldsmith, died when Herrick was an infant, but he was aided by a rich uncle, Sir William Herrick, who was jeweler to the king. He was apprenticed to his uncle, but his academic talents made it advisable to send him to St. John’s, Cambridge, at the age of twenty-two. He took his bachelor’s degree in 1617 and his master’s degree in 1620. Little is known of the next nine years of his life, but he probably spent them in London.
In 1629 Herrick became vicar at Dean Prior, Devonshire, where, despite feeling exiled, he began to write poetry that exalted the charms of rusticity. He stayed in this rural setting until 1647, when he was removed from his position because he refused to subscribe to Parliamentary reforms. He thereupon went to London and collected his twelve hundred short poems into his single volume,
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