Poems from “Hesperides” of Robert Herrick
Source: William Henry Husk, Songs of the Nativity (London: John Camden Hotten, 1868)
The following series of short poems illustrative of old Christmas customs and superstitions is selected from the “Hesperides” of Robert Herrick (1591-1674), first published in 1648. Few writers have been so thoroughly conversant with the popular superstitions of their time, or have so pleasantly interwoven them into their poetry, as Herrick; hence his verses have a life-like character and charm which leads captive every reader.
On Christmas Eve (Come Bring The Noise)
On Christmas Eve (Come, Guard This Night)
Twelfth Night, or King and Queen (Now, Now, The Mirth Comes)
Saint Distaff's Day (Partly Work and Partly Play)
Candlemas Eve (Down With The Rosemary, And So)
Candlemas Day (Kindle The Christmas Brand)
Also found in Henry Vizetelly, Christmas With The Poets (London: David Bogue, 1851), who noted:
Among all our English poets, the one, who has left us by far the most complete contemporary picture of the Christmas season, was a country clergyman of the reign of Charles I., who held a small living in a remote part of Devonshire.
Vizetelly provided additional biographical notes about Herrick. He also included 18 poems, some of which are found both above and below. Additional poems include:
The Bell-Man (First Line: "From noise of scare-fires rest ye free")
The Wassail Bowl (First Line: "Next will I cause my hopeful lad")
Other Herrick poetry relating to the Christmas-tide include:
A Christmas Carol (being A Christmas Carol, Sung To The King In The Presence At Whitehall) (First Line: "What sweeter music can we bring")
A New Year's Gift (Sent To Sir Simeon Steward) (First Line: "No news of navies burnt at seas")
An Ode of the Birth of our Savior (First Line: "In numbers, and but these few")
Ceremonies For Christmas (From Bullen: Another To The Maids and Another)
Give Way, Give Way, Ye Gates, And Win (A Wassail)
Tell Us, Thou Cleere And Heavenly Tongue (Also known as The Star Song, or A Carol To The King Sung At Whitehall)
And, from Project Gutenberg, Lyrical Poems Of Robert Herrick, which contain most of the above among the 261 entries. There is also this two-line entry titled Christ's Birth:
One birth our Saviour had; the like none yet
Was, or will be a second like to it.
Washington Irving, in the "Christmas Day" sketch from his well-known Old Christmas, included the following passage:
The service was followed by a Christmas carol, which Mr. Bracebridge himself had constructed from a poem of his favourite author, Herrick; and it had been adapted to an old church melody by Master Simon. As there were several good voices among the household, the effect was extremely pleasing; but I was particularly gratified by the exaltation of heart, and sudden sally of grateful feeling, with which the worthy Squire delivered one stanza: his eyes glistening, and his voice rambling out of all the bounds of time and tune:
"'Tis Thou that crown'st my glittering hearth
With guiltlesse mirth,
And giv'st me wassaile bowles to drink,
Spiced to the brink:
Lord, 'tis Thy plenty-dropping hand
That soiles my land;
And giv'st me for my bushell sowne,
Twice ten for one.
This is an excerpt from a longer poem, "A Thanksgiving To God, For His House," by Herrick. The full poem can be found in The Lyrical Poems Of Robert Herrick.
January 6 - Epiphany - William Hone, The Every Day Book (2 Volumes, 1825 & 1827)
Twelfth Day Ceremonies - William Sandys, Christmas Carols Ancient And Modern (1833)
Twelfth Day - John Brand, Popular Antiquities Of Great Britain (Hazlitt's Edition of 1905)
For more poetry by Robert Herrick, please see The Works of Robert Herrick by Anniina Jokinen. This site also has a short biography of Herrick.
Christmas Poetry by Robert Herrick
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