Corinna's Going A-Maying
by Robert Herrick
Stanza 1 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Get up, get up for shame, the blooming morn
Upon her wings presents the god unshorn.
See how Aurora throws her fair
Fresh-quilted colours through the air:
- "Get Up Get Up Get Up." It's the boyfriend alarm clock. Corinna's still asleep, but her lover, the speaker of the poem, is up and at 'em, trying to guilt her awake with some well-placed landscape imagery.
- The thing about alarm clocks is, they're pretty insistent. The speaker is, too. He starts out in the imperative mood (he's a demanding little bugger), and he rarely leaves it. This poem issues commands like a three-year-old. Get up! See! Play with me!
- His personification of nature gives the dawn human qualities: the morning is a woman with wings who tosses dawn-colors across the sky like a pioneer quilt. The sun with its strong rays is like some guy's well-haired head.
- Think Louis XIV.
- But κόλαση! if there's not some Greek mythology going on here, too. The morning is named Aurora, Greek goddess of the dawn, and the sun she's bearing through the sky is probably Helios, god of the sun.
- The speaker's basic gripe is this: if the sun's up, then you should be, too.
Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see
The dew bespangling herb and tree.
Each flower has wept and bow'd toward the east
Above an hour since: yet you not dress'd;
Nay! not so much as out of bed?
- Line 5 hits us with a third "get up," a repetition that adds to the speaker's urgency. He really wants Corinna to come a-Maying with him.
- He's urgent, but he's not mad. So yeah, we wouldn't want to be called a "slug-a-bed," but the "sweet" indicates that it's an endearment, kind of. The triple lineup of s-alliteration in "sweet," "slug," and "see" points to the tension: he really loves her but can't she get out of bed already?
- Get ready for some more humanized nature. The flowers have already cried dew all over the garden and twisted up for some good ol' photosynthesizing sunshine. That was an hour ago, and Corinna is still not dressed or even out of bed. Talk about lazy.
- All this raving about dew and grass and glorious dawn puts this poem in the pastoral mode. By celebrating spring and May Day festivities, Herrick is also celebrating a traditional, simple, rustic way of life. Corinna and the speaker are no city slickers. They're sweet butter-churning, pie-making, rug-weaving, pig-feeding country folk.
- The exclamation mark after "Nay" and then the incredulous question—wait, you're still under the covers?—illustrate the speaker's playful irritation. It also makes you wonder, where exactly is this guy? Is he drifting in and out of Corinna's bedroom while he hunts down his shaving cream? Is he standing under her open window with a lute, a feathered cap, and a picnic basket full of England's best cheese?
When all the birds have matins said
And sung their thankful hymns, 'tis sin,
Nay, profanation to keep in,
- Moving from dawn to plants to animals in his nature tour, the speaker offers a flock of personified birds as a final plea. Even the pigeons on the windowsill have said their prayers (matins is a type of morning prayer) and chirped a few hymns. Can't we get out of here already?
- He ramps up his complaint in line 11 with some more religious talk. Although the rest of this stanza is pretty pagan, what with Aurora trundling Helios through the sky, here the speaker goes all Christian on us. Who knows? Maybe those praying birds inspired him.
- According to our speaker, it's a sin to stay inside on this May Day. No wait, it's even worse. It's a profanation.
- What the what? To profane means to disrespect something sacred, which implies that May Day is a holy day.
- But unlike Easter or Christmas or even Sundays, which are holy because they are days of Christian worship, May Day is holy for the opposite reason: it's a day of pagan celebration. Corinna isn't late for church; she's late for frolicking around the Maypole and getting busy in the flowering bushes.
- So here the speaker uses a little Christian imagery only to flip it on its head. Cheeky boy and his irony. Keep your pagan eyes peeled for other examples below.
Whereas a thousand virgins on this day
Spring, sooner than the lark, to fetch in May.
- The speaker wraps up the stanza with a jolt of hyperbole (a thousand virgins) and a dash of wordplay. All the maidens in the village are celebrating May Day and they're not doing it sluggishly. They "spring" faster than a lark darting through the sky to celebrate the spring. Get it? They jump in it.
- This punny exaggeration is an obvious contrast to Corinna, who is more like a slug than a lark. She can't be bothered to fetch in the May, not when there's zzzzz's to be had.
- Plus, even though "a thousand virgins" is deliberately over-the-top, this festivity is community-wide. In other words, the speaker isn't inviting Corinna out on a romantic date down lovers' lane, just we two. Instead, he's coaxing her out to celebrate with the entire village.
- "Fetch" is an interesting verb here since it implies that spring can't come in on its own. It's like a frisbee lying on the grass, waiting for Fido to come along and pick it up. For all our speaker's celebration of the natural world, he and the other villagers actually play an important role in this seasonal come-and-go.