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Robert Herrick (1591–1674)

To Find God

Weigh me the fire; or canst thou find
A way to measure out the wind?
Distinguish all those floods that are
Mixed in that wat'ry theater,
And taste thou them as saltless there,
As in their channel first they were.
Tell me the people that do keep
Within the kingdoms of the deep;
Or fetch me back that cloud again,
Beshivered into seeds of rain.
Tell me the motes, dust, sands, and spears
Of corn, when summer shakes his ears;
Show me that world of stars, and whence
They noiseless spill their influence.
This if thou canst; then show me Him
That rides the glorious cherubim.

      Robert Herrick was born in Cheapside, London, in 1591, the seventh child of Nicholas Herrick, a prosperous goldsmith. In November 1592, two days after making a will, Nicholas killed himself by jumping from the fourth-floor window of his house. The Queen's Almoner had to be paid a £220 fee not to confiscate the Herrick estate for the crown as was usually the case with suicides. There is no record of Herrick attending school, although it is possible he attended Westminster School.  In 1607 he became apprenticed to his uncle Sir William Herrick as a goldsmith.

      Herrick entered St. John's College, Cambridge in 1613, graduated a Bachelor of Arts in 1617, and Master of Arts in 1620. He became the eldest of the "Sons of Ben", Cavalier poets who idolized Ben Jonson, mixing in literary circles in London. On April 24, 1623 Herrick was ordained an Episcopal minister and acted as chaplain to Buckingham on the expedition to the Île de Ré. In 1629 he was appointed by Charles I to the living of Dean Prior in the diocese of Exeter, a post he reluctantly accepted. There, in Devon, he lived in the seclusion of country life, and wrote some of his best work, never completely ceasing, however, to long for the pleasures of London.

      In 1647, under the Commonwealth, he was expelled from the priory by the Protectorate government for refusing the Solemn League and Covenant, and returned to London. In 1648 Herrick published his major collection, Hesperides, consisting of 1200 poems. Included separately in Hesperides was the subsection Noble Numbers, for the poems with sacred subjects. With the restoration of Charles II in 1660 he was returned to Devon where he died and was buried a bachelor in 1674 at the age of eighty-three.


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