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Corinna's Going A-Maying

Corinna's Going A-Maying


by Robert Herrick

Stanza 4 Summary

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

Lines 43-48

There's not a budding boy or girl this day
But is got up, and gone to bring in May.
    A deal of youth, ere this, is come
    Back, and with white-thorn laden home.
    Some have despatch'd their cakes and cream
    Before that we have left to dream:

  • Nature's not the only one that's been busy this morning. All the village young people have been up and at it since the dawn, gathering branches and decorating their front porches. 
  • "Budding" gives these adolescents a flower-like feel, emphasizing their natural connection with springtime. It also indicates that they're still growing—not quite adults, but definitely awash in hormonal urges.
  • If this sounds more like a middle school cafeteria and less like a fun day out, remember that responsibility was fast-tracked in the 17th century. These teenagers were already planning careers (at least the boys) and future marriages.
  • Some have been out with the wheelbarrow and clippers, but others have been chillaxing. It's not a festival without refreshments, right? Well, you better get your speed on, Corinna, before the youngsters eat every crumb of dessert before you're even in your bathrobe.
  • We don't know about you (or Corinna), but to us "cakes and cream" is just one more reason to love May Day. This is a holiday that celebrates material pleasures, and all the sweet, sticky, fragrant, beautiful things that make life worth living.

Lines 49-54

And some have wept, and woo'd, and plighted troth,
And chose their priest, ere we can cast off sloth:
    Many a green-gown has been given;
    Many a kiss, both odd and even:
    Many a glance too has been sent
    From out the eye, love's firmament;

  • Along with collecting branches and eating creamy layer cakes, these budding boys and girls have also been wooing each other this morning.
  • Some keep it PG and commitment-free, flirting with simple glances and chaste kisses. But others put a little raunch into the romp. "Green-gowns" is a euphemism for sex, since any girl lying on her back in the grass would get telltale stains.
  • Others have marriage on the mind. Although the speaker is compressing the time frame for effect (i.e., getting Corinna out of bed), it seems that a lot of these young people are interested in putting a ring on it.
  • It may be unlikely for a couple to date, get engaged, and pick a wedding date and priest all in a single morning. But the speaker wants Corinna to know that a lot of folks are getting a move on with their future lives and happiness—all while she lies in bed.
  • Hear that alliterative pep? We've got "cakes and cream" in line 47, "wept" and "woo'd" in line 49, and the infamous "green-gown" of line 51.

Lines 55-56

Many a jest told of the keys betraying
This night, and locks pick'd, yet we're not a-Maying.

  • If you thought the green gowns were dirty (and we're talking more than grass stains), get a load of the euphemistic metaphor here. These locks and keys and picks are clear stand-ins for people who are getting it on.
  • The girls are the locks, meant to be opened by a designated key (probably a husband or at least a fiancé). But it looks like these keys are currently MIA or maybe even nonexistent. Come on, a lot of these girls are super-young.
  • Instead the locks are going to be picked tonight—illicitly opened by inappropriate dudes.
  • There's more than a whiff here of sexual assault, what with this breaking-in imagery. But the speaker neutralizes the violence by telling Corinna that these stories are jokes. Does that mean all the ladies were willing? Or could this festival also shield some not-so-savory non-consent?

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