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Corinna's Going A-Maying

Corinna's Going A-Maying


by Robert Herrick

Stanza 3 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 29-31

Come, my Corinna, come; and, coming, mark
How each field turns a street, each street a park
    Made green and trimm'd with trees: [...]

  • Stop a minute and admire that train of "comes." The hard c's in "Corinna" and "mark" round out the alliteration to 5 c-sounds. Is this message getting across? Come out, Corinna?
  • Next he tells her to notice how nature and civilization are woven together around this village, how the natural unmowed fields turn into streets and then the streets turn into parks. If the fields are pure nature and the streets are pure civilization, then the parks are a hybrid of the two. Humans plan and plant them, but they're full of green and trees.
  • Like line 14, these lines highlight the role of humans in controlling nature and using art to make it even more pleasing. It's like when you add a few plaster gnomes to your front yard and all of sudden your flowerbeds go from bad to rad.

Lines 31-38

[…] 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?

  • So these villagers obviously like a little horticultural landscaping; now we find out that they also like to take a little nature home with them. Each doorway is decorated with flowering branches or woven wreaths.
  • Is this some kind of Southern hemisphere Christmas? Not quite, although "devotion" is behind it. But these 17th-century Martha Stewarts aren't lugging home local greenery for religious reasons.
  • Again, the speaker uses the language of Christian ritual ironically, to plug the pagan lifestyle. In a church, these arks and tabernacles are sacred boxes or sanctuaries that house important religious stuff, like scriptures and relics.
  • But here they're metaphors for the secret sanctuaries of lovemaking. That's right: these branch decorations make a cool and shady retreat for some out-of-sight hanky-panky.
  • Is it always better to keep your lovemaking to the porch? The speaker admits that anything done outside, on the street or in the nearby fields, will be spotted by other May revelers. But this is a public holiday, so take your "festivities" into the open! 
  • Note the emphasis on "each": "each house," "each porch," "each door." This pagan celebratin' is a full-village deal.
  • Everyone's got their decorations up.

Lines 39-42

    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.

  • Again the speaker commands Corinna to get outside and start playing. And this time he slyly uses two types of authority to back him up.
  • The first is civic authority, or an appeal to secular power held by the state or village. Wanna know why we should be bustin' out moves round that Maypole? Because a "proclamation" says so and we have to obey.
  • Is it likely that May Day is enforced by an honest-to-goodness proclamation, written on parchment with a big ol' seal? No. It's a figurative way of stressing the festival's importance to the village way of life.
  • The same goes for the second type of authority he invokes. Would this couple actually be sinning if they stayed inside? If they were using that room to pray and do other virtuous things, definitely not. Especially if they were avoiding the naughtiness outside.
  • This is hyperbole, used to emphasize just how desperately he wants her to come outside. But it's also ironic, since again he's using religious terms to make fun of them. It's a sin to stay inside only according to the May Day rules, which are all about maximizing pleasure and fun.
  • On the other hand, could Herrick be using religious language because he thinks that May Day fits in with religion?
  • Perhaps he's not mocking Christianity but encouraging a different form of it. After all, if God made the world, maybe it is a sin to sleep in on a beautiful morning where one might witness his creation.
  • Either way, all this talk of proclamations and sin is an obvious in-your-face to Puritan legislation of 1644 that banned May Day celebrations in England. The Puritan-controlled Parliament actually did write a proclamation declaring the traditional observance of May Day a crime and a sin.
  • By insisting that May Day must be celebrated, by counter-proclamation and counter-sin, Herrick is thumbing his nose at the Puritan killjoys in power.

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