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Corinna's Going A-Maying

Corinna's Going A-Maying


by Robert Herrick

Stanza 5 Summary

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

Lines 57-58

Come, let us go while we are in our prime;
And take the harmless folly of the time.

  • Seize the stanza, Shmoopers! Although the whole poem has focused on persuading Corinna to get up and enjoy the pleasures of the moment, this is the stanza that really trumpets the carpe diem theme. That's Latin for "seize the day" or, in other words, GET OUT THERE AND HAVE FUN. And in poems written by men in ye olden times, fun usually = sex.
  • This stanza shifts the focus from nature and society to the speaker and Corinna. Instead of comparing her laziness to the can-do industry of the morning and the villagers, the speaker urges her to take a good hard look at her life and her choices.
  • Basically his message boils down to this: they're not getting any younger. They'll never look or feel as good as they do in this very moment, when spring is around the corner and they're in love and healthy.
  • So why not enjoy a little harmless fun while they can? It's not like this is a job interview she's missing—it's just a little sleep. He admits that it might be silly to bring in the May with a pole and flowers. But it's also enjoyable. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, despite what the Puritans might say.

Lines 59-62

    We shall grow old apace, and die
    Before we know our liberty.
    Our life is short, and our days run
    As fast away as does the sun;

  • The speaker elaborates on his message, stressing that time is shorter than you think. Life's like a game of Taboo: the freaking hourglass just won't stop.
  • The danger is that they'll both get old and rickety before they've had a chance to fully enjoy their good health and youth and beauty. He doesn't want them to turn into the crotchety senior citizens on benches at the park who carp that youth is wasted on the young. 
  • After all, life doesn't last forever, and it's easy to forget that days can rush past, as fast as the sun setting into the horizon.
  • It's kind of an obvious simile—of course our days travel as fast as the sun, since the sun's traveling is a day. But the point is that we spend a lot of time looking at the sun and tracking its movements, whether we're checking the time, looking for rain, or enjoying the sunset on lawn chairs. We're super-conscious of where the sun is and how fast it can change.
  • What we don't realize as much is that the sun is directly linked to our lives. Every time that burning ball sets, that's one less day for us to live.

Lines 63-68

And, as a vapour or a drop of rain
Once lost, can ne'er be found again,
    So when or you or I are made
    A fable, song, or fleeting shade,
    All love, all liking, all delight
    Lies drowned with us in endless night.

  • The speaker hits us with another simile at line 63, comparing the shortness of life to evaporation. Everyone knows that once water vaporizes into the air it joins the great water cycle, hanging out in the clouds until it rains down again. But Herrick is not going for 7th grade science here, okay. For the sake of this simile, once mist or rain disappears, it's a true goner.
  • And bummer: that's what life is like. Now it's here, then it's not. And once you're dead, you're never coming back again.
  • That means that once he and Corinna are gone—made into stories or poems or just ghosts—it's curtains on all material pleasures. No more sex, no more cakes and cream, no more dancing around the Maypole in a green-gown.
  • All that fun stuff will be as dead and inaccessible as they are.
  • The deluge of l-sounds and long i's in line 67 points up the tragedy of missing out on all these good times. See "Sound Check" for more on assonance and other sound tricks.

Lines 69-70

Then while time serves, and we are but decaying,
Come, my Corinna, come, let's go a-Maying.

  • After all the dire warnings of this stanza, the "then" of line 69 hits us with the force of a thrown cream cake. Here's the kicker, the answer, the only way to avoid this sad fate of dying old, ugly, and with zero memories of fun times.
  • But we already know it, since it's only been repeated about fifty million times: "let's go a-Maying."
  • It's clear now that this poem is not just about dancing around a maypole and having a few beers. It's about eluding time and death, about dodging religious rules and puritanical laws and seizing your chance to have fun and experience the pleasures of the world right now. In other words, May Day is just a metaphor for living life to its fullest.
  • "Decaying" here doesn't mean that Corinna will slowly rot until she finally dies, turning brown and wrinkled like a bad orange. Instead, it's more a synonym for "living": every day we're alive, we're edging closer to our deaths. So in a sense, while we're living we're also decaying.
  • All the more reason to get out with that maypole.

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