photo from @liverpoolparks
Robert Herrick ‘To Daffodils’
I love Robert Herrick. I love ‘To Anthea, who may command him anything’ and I love ‘So Good Luck Came’, ‘To The virgins to Make Much of Time’, ‘Corinna’s Gone a-Maying’ – we’ll come to that in May – and many, many others. What do I love? Herrick’s brilliantly balanced between loving this world and knowing how short a date it has.
But his poem ‘To Daffodils’ I have passed by many times, not really noticing it, not reading it, because I’d glance-read it and assumed I’d got it. After all, it is very short. But today, I’m stopping to read.
On Saturday my friend Angie (A Little Aloud Angie, yes) told me the daffodils planted along the roadside and in tubs in Hoylake (the next little town along from us) were spectacular and that it was worth going to Hoylake just to see them. That evening we were going to the pictures (don’t ask) and I drove a roundabout route, via Hoylake, to see them. They were magnificent, fluttering, dancing, yes like stars, and seemingly never-ending. Well done, Hoylake!
We were nearly late for the film but I wanted to take Angie’s advice because I knew I next time I tried to look they’d be gone. Like almost everything the nature, they do come and go very quickly. This is a thing you know more intensely as you get older because time speeds up as years pass. Does anyone remember that moving interview between Melvin Bragg and the dying Denis Potter, in which Mr Potter speaks of the joy of still being alive and being able to see this year’s blossom, ‘the blossomest blossom ever’?
Well that’s what Robert Herrick is talking about. ‘We weep to see/you haste away so soon’ because we see our own hastening mirrored in yours. ‘Time’s ah running out’, as Captain Beefheart says. Interesting that Herrick repeats the verb ‘haste’ in the day’s ‘hasting’ – as if everything now were moving at a tremendous time speed.
Let’s get to the end, he’s saying, then we’ll go. ‘We’ll go with you along.’ There’s an implication of being made to go along? of being unwilling? Let’s get to the end of the day, then we’ll go. But what is the end of the day for a human? ‘Stay, stay,’ the poet cries, trying to slow time down. In the first stanza, I know Herrick is really talking about himself (and me) but he covers it with daffodils as if it might only be about the passing of a flower’s quick life.
But the second stanza takes away any pretence.