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Corinna's Going a-Maying
By Robert Herrick (1591-1674) 
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Summary
Theme
Tone
End Rhyme
Meter
Text of the Poem and Notes
Figures of Speech
Study Questions
Writing Topics
Herrick's Biography
Index of Study Guides
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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings... 2010
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Type of Work and Publication Year

......."Corinna's Going A-Maying" is a lyric poem with a pastoral setting and carpe diem theme. John Williams and F. Eglesfield published the poem in London in 1648 as part of Hesperides: Or, The Works Both Humane & Divine of Robert Herrick Esq, a collection of Herrick's poems.

Summary

.......A young man coaxes his beloved, Corinna, to go forth with him to enjoy the delights of a spring morning "while the light / Hangs on the dew-locks of the night." It would be foolish to remain indoors on such a glorious day, he says. Already, many young men and women are out and about and have even become engaged and chosen a priest for the wedding. So let's not waste time, he tells her. Life is short, and "We shall grow old apace, and die / Before we know our liberty."

Theme

.......The theme of the poem is to enjoy life's pleasures before life itself passes you by. In other words, carpe diem—that is, seize the day. When it is gone, it will never return. The Roman poet Horace (65-8 BC) popularized the term carpe diem in the eleventh poem of his first book of Odes, published in 23 BC. Horace wrote: “Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.” This sentence may be translated loosely as, "Seize the day rather than placing your trust in the future." After Horace died, carpe diem gained widespread currency as a term for categorizing any literary work whose primary purpose was to persuade readers to make the most of the here and now.
.......To review another Herrick poem on the theme of carpe diem, click here.

Tone

.......The tone is joyful, happy, exuberant, and full of anticipation.
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End Rhyme

.......In each stanza, the first line rhymes with the second, the third with the fourth, the fifth with the sixth, and so on. Two successive lines that rhyme are called a couplet. In each stanza, all the couplets end with masculine rhyme (consisting of single syllables) except the final couplet; it ends with feminine rhyme (consisting of two rhyming syllables in each line.

Come, my Corinna, come; and, coming, mark
How each field turns a street, each street a park
       Made green and trimm'd with trees : see how
       Devotion gives each house a bough
    Or branch : each porch, each door ere this
       An ark, a tabernacle is,
Made up of white-thorn neatly interwove ;
As if here were those cooler shades of love.
       Can such delights be in the street
And open fields and we not see't ?
    Come, we'll abroad ; and let's obey
       The proclamation made for May:
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;
But, my Corinna, come, let's go a-Maying.
Meter

.......Herrick wrote the flush-left lines in iambic pentameter and the indented lines in iambic tetrameter. A line of iambic pentameter has five pairs of syllables, or five feet. A line of iambic tetrameter has four pairs of syllables, or four feet. An iambic foot, or iamb, consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. 
.......The first four lines of the first stanza demonstrate the metric pattern.

.......1..............2..............3.................4.................5
Come MY..|..Cor IN..|..na COME..|..and COM..|..ing MARK

.......1...................2.....................3.....................4...................5
How EACH..|..field TURNS..|..a STREET,..|..each STREET..|..a PARK

.........1........................2.....................3...................4..................
Made GREEN..|..and TRIMM'D..|..with TREES:..|..see HOW

....1................2....................3....................4..................
De VO..|..tion GIVES..|..each HOUSE..|..a BOUGH

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Text of the Poem

Come, my Corinna, come; and, coming, mark
How each field turns a street, each street a park
       Made green and trimm'd with trees: see how
       Devotion gives each house a bough
       Or branch: each porch, each door ere this
       An ark, a tabernacle is,
Made up of white-thorn neatly interwove;
As if here were those cooler shades of love.
       Can such delights be in the street
And open fields and we not see't ?
       Come, we'll abroad; and let's obey
       The proclamation made for May:
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;
But, my Corinna, come, let's go a-Maying.

There's not a budding boy or girl this day
But is got up, and gone to bring in May.
      A deal of youth, ere this, is come
      Back, and with white-thorn laden home.1
   Some have despatch'd2 their cakes and cream
     Before that we have left to dream:
And some have wept, and woo'd, and plighted troth,
And chose their priest, ere we can cast off sloth:
  Many a green-gown3 has been given;
  Many a kiss, both odd and even:
    Many a glance too has been sent
  From out the eye, love's firmament;4
Many a jest told of the keys betraying
This night, and locks pick'd, yet we're not a-Maying.

Come, let us go while we are in our prime;
And take the harmless folly of the time.
    We shall grow old apace, and die
       Before we know our liberty.
  Our life is short, and our days run
As fast away as does the sun;
And, as a vapour or a drop of rain
Once lost, can ne'er be found again,
  So when or you or I are made
      A fable, song, or fleeting shade,5
       All love, all liking, all delight
       Lies drowned with us in endless night.
Then while time serves, and we are but decaying,
Come, my Corinna, come, let's go a-Maying.

Notes

1...A deal . . . home: Many young people have already gone out and returned home with white thorns stuck to their clothing.
2...despatch'd: Eaten.
3...green gown: Clothing stained green from sitting or rolling in the grass.
4...firmament: See Metaphor, below.
5...when . . . shade: When you or I die
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Figures of Speech

.......Following are examples of figures of speech in the poem.

Alliteration

Come, my Corinna, come; and, coming, mar
budding boy
cakes and cream
Anaphora
Many a green-gown has been given;
Many a kiss, both odd and even:
Many a glance too has been sent

All love, all liking, all delight

Hyperbole
endless night
Metaphor
the eye, love's firmament
Comparison of the eye to an arching sky (firmament)
Simile
......................our days run
As fast away as does the sun
Comparison of the passing of the days to the passing of the sun

as a vapour or a drop of rain
Once lost, [time] can ne'er be found again
Comparison of time to a vapor or a drop of rain

Study Questions and Writing Topics
  • In Herrick's time, there were of course no televisions, computers, or other indoor amusements. Consequently, a sunny day in May was an irresistible attraction for young people. Write an essay centering on the outdoor activities of seventeenth-century children, adolescents, and young adults when spring arrived. 
  • What is the meaning of "plighted troth" in line 21?
  • What is the meaning of "endless night" in line 40?
  • Write a short poem on the idea expressed in lines 33 and 34: "Our life is short, and our days run / As fast away as does the sun." 
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