Corinna's Going A-Maying
Gather ye rosebuds. Now let us sport us while we may. Give me everything tonight. From Marvell to Pitbull, "Corinna's Going A-Maying" joins a long line of male poets begging women to just do it already. Carpe diem? Carpe him. These poems are all about seizing the man.
Usually that means that you're about to read a bunch of lines about getting a woman into bed. But "Corinna" shakes things up by doing just the opposite: this speaker is trying to get a woman out of bed.
What the why?
Well, it's a witty reverse of the aubade, a love poem set at dawn that's usually about prolonging the night. Remember when Juliet tries to tell Romeo that the morning larks are actually nightingales and guess what, it's still bedtime? The speaker in "Corinna" is totally on the same page, only he wants to jumpstart the day and take the fun outside. Why? Because that's where the entire village is celebrating the arrival of spring with games, cakes, and courting. What better place to fall in love and get down to business?
If this sounds 100 percent not like your usual Sunday picnic, give yourself a gold star. In Robert Herrick's England, May Day was about having fun and celebrating nature, not about religious worship. And even though Herrick was a pastor himself, he full-on embraced the traditional pastimes of country life in his pastoral poetry. Doing it al fresco in the hedge-rows? May the gods be with you.
The Puritans had a different opinion. With the triumph of Cromwell's dudes during the English Civil War (1642-49), Puritans sailed into power and started axing all frivolous festivities that might undermine morality. In 1644 it was goodbye Christmas and goodbye May Day. Good Christians shouldn't dance around poles or braid garlands! And don't even think about getting it on in the grass.
For Puritans, May Day was a dangerous, immoral, pagan holiday that had to be regulated with legislation. But as Herrick demonstrates in this poem, published four years after the Puritan ban, for most people May Day was as pure and simple a delight as a crock of fresh-churned butter. Part of the cycle of life, it welcomed the warmth and fertility of spring after the long abstinent winter. And it's no sin for people to get in on the cycle of life, too. Just ask the speaker in "Corinna." After all, next winter is only 6 months away, death is approaching around every corner.
Why Should I Care?
We've all been there. It's Saturday night. You and your pals are out ripping up the town. Shooting hoops. Getting frozen yogurt with mochi. Volunteering at the local soup kitchen. Whatever. But you've got a test tomorrow morning and it's all you can think about. Your friends are laughing; you're reviewing the Krebs cycle. They're joking; you're trying to remember what you got on the midterm—how many points do you absolutely need to get an A?
While they're savoring the moment, you're stressing about the future and dragging up the past. And that's about as much fun as 60 multiple-choice questions and a page of short-answer responses.
Guys, Herrick would be shaking his head and wagging his finger right in your consternated little face. Not that he would advise you to blow off a biology final, but in poems like "Corinna is Going A-Maying" and "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time," he makes his philosophy clear: live in the now, maximize the present. The future is coming all too fast anyway, and there's no need to worry about it more than you already are.
In other words, if you're out on the town, then be out on the town. Eat that frozen yogurt like there's no tomorrow. But if you're studying for an exam, study hard and enjoy the mental burn. It's all about seizing the day, folks.
And by the end of this poem, you'll realize that "Corinna" is not just about celebrating May Day. Sure, it's important to attend local dances around the city maypole (what, your city doesn't have one?), but this poem is also advocating a whole new way of life, one that prizes nature, community, and physical pleasure. Above all, it's a life that revels in the present. Roll back those covers. Put on your clothes. And come outside to play.
Like we said: YOLO.