Study Guide

Corinna's Going A-Maying Analysis

  • Sound Check

    Repetition

    Your mom trying to wake you up for school: "Time to get up. Time to get up! TIME TO GET UP!"

    Notice a pattern? Whenever someone really wants you to do something, they have a tendency to tell you over and over—especially if you're face down in bed pretending to be dead.

    The speaker in this poem's got the same strategy. He really wants Corinna to come a-Maying, but she's showing no signs of quitting the zzzzz's. His repetition of command words like "get up" and "come" drives home his urgent message. Take a look at the first stanza, where he hits us with three "get ups" in five lines:

    • "Get up, get up for shame" (1)
    • "Get up, sweet slug-a-bed" (5)

    "Come" plays the same role in the third stanza with an impressive five appearances. She must be getting the message!

    • "Come, my Corinna, come; and, coming, mark" (29)
    • "Come, we'll abroad" (39)

    And, to round it out:

    • "But, my Corinna, come, let's go a-Maying" (42)

    Stanza 4 offers a barrage of "many", emphasizing that there's a lot of stuff going down at this May party and Corinna is missing it all. Many people are having sex, many are getting married, many are lounging in deck chairs and swapping dirty jokes. The point is to infect Corinna with a serious case of FOMO. Hear that, Corinna? So much fun happening without you!

    Alliteration

    Herrick also sprinkles in a good handful of alliteration—words that start with the same sounds. These guys are meant to prick up your sonic ears, drawing attention to a particular line or idea. In lines 43 and 47, for instance, alliteration points out two aspects of this May Day party: its celebration of youth and physical pleasures. First off we've got every "budding boy" (43) and then "cakes and cream." Food and sex is where it's at, according to our guy.

    Herrick goes for a similar effect in stanza 4 with a luscious line-up of l-sounds:

        all love, all liking, all delight
        Lies drowned
    (67-68)

    Technically, these aren't all alliteration, since the l's appear in the middle and at the ends of words (that's consonance, yo), but the overall effect is the same: a kicked-up contrast between all the fun of life and all the boredom of death. As your tongue lingers over those sweet-sounding l-words, you start to think, Gee, maybe I don't want to drown in endless night. Maybe I will have fun today!

    Assonance

    Assonance, which is the repetition of vowel sounds in two words, doesn't occur as often as alliteration. But when it does, it packs a punch. Consider line 59 where the long o-sounds in "grow old" emphasize how close death really is. Line 62 does the same thing:

    does the sun (62)

    They don't look the same, but hear how those dull u-sounds bring out Corinna's sad fate? It's all medicare and heart medicine from now on.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Like many of Herrick's poems, which have scandalous titles like "On the Nipples of Julia's Breast," this one's super specific. We've got a specific woman's name, a specific activity, and a declaration: this woman is going to bring in the May with me. Compare this to some of John Donne's contemporary poems, like "The Ecstasy" or "Song." Not a whole lotta information there.

    But for all its specificity, the title "Corinna's Going A-Maying" is still confusing. It sounds completely sure of itself, as if Corinna's already out there on the romp, even though the whole poem is about persuading Corinna to get up and get out. So what's going on here? Is she coming or isn't she? The title says yes, the poem says… maybe.

    Is this title an expression of wishful thinking? Or is it an announcement about the end of the story, as in, "sure, read it through for the themes and language but spoiler alert: Corinna is coming with me to the maypole."

    Regardless, that one little "is" kicks up a lot of tension between the title and the poem. Depending on how you interpret "is going," the title could either be in the future tense or the present tense. Is Corinna going to join the May Day, the same way you're going to school in an hour? Or is she actually going to the May Day right now, mid-stride? If it's in future tense, then there's still an element of uncertainty—and five stanzas to do some heavy-duty persuadin'.

  • Setting

    It's the first day of May and Corinna's in bed, probably sleeping off a long night of A.P. Bio cramming. It's not clear whether the speaker is inside her bedroom or standing outside her window, but either way, he's using all his poetic might to wake her up. That means that although the poem celebrates spring and nature and everything wonderful outside, the physical setting of the lovers is inside. It's an indoors poem about the great outdoors.

    And what about this outside? A Google Maps search would locate Corinna in some rural English village—somewhere small enough that the whole community is celebrating this festival, where "each house" is decorated with flowers (32) and every "budding boy or girl" (43) is out courting and eating cake.

    We also know that this village is no city suburb stuffed with Wal-Marts, Chick-fil-As, and miles of well-lit parking lots. This place merges almost seamlessly with the surrounding forest:

    Come, my Corinna, come; and, coming, mark
    How each field turns a street, each street a park
     (29-30)

    Plus, the festivities Herrick describes here are all rustic traditions, part of the English countryside's commitment to old-time cultural fun.

  • Speaker

    Young and lustful, this guy might already be in a relationship with Corinna. In any case, he's super anxious to get her outside and into the May Day scene.

    But he's also a philosophical dude. May Day isn't just about flowers and cakes and sexy times. In this poem he also expresses a whole way of life that elevates community, puts nature alongside religion, and stresses the importance of living in the moment.

    This is about the "we" and the "now" rather than the "I" and the "later."

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (3) Base Camp

    The language is simple and conversational, but allusions to mythological beings and some coy innuendo keep you digging beneath the surface. Plus, although it's a straightforward narrative (get out of bed, Corinna), this message is also freighted with a lot of philosophical baggage about religion, community, and the best way to live a life. Knowing a wee bit of British history should go a long way.

  • Calling Card

    Mistresses, Country Life

    For a dude who wrote over 2500 poems, from "The Bride-Cake" to "Ill Government," it's hard to boil things down to a single calling card. This guy was diverse. However, Herrick's most famous poems tend to revolve around a few key themes: the hotness of women and the joys and boredom of country life.

    In his many poems written to named women (think Corinna, Julia, etc.), Herrick dishes about physical beauty, sexy fun, and the importance of seizing both before you're dead and gone. Sound familiar? "Corinna's Going A-Maying" fits right in with this erotic carpe diem theme. "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" is another famous one.

    Herrick loved him some ladies, no question. But his attitude towards the countryside was a little more ambivalent. In 1630 he was assigned to the Dean Prior vicarage, located way out in the boonies of rural Devonshire. For a man used to the artsy buzz of London, this was a huge and sometimes unwelcome change. Just check out "To Dean Bourne," where he calls the locals as "churlish as the seas, / and rude almost as rudest savages."

    But in other poems, like "Corinna," he's the countryside's loudest cheerleader. These pastoral poems are lovingly anti-urban, promoting rustic traditions instead of all that modern London stuff. Looks like life in Devonshire wasn't all bad.

  • Form and Meter

    Iambic Pentameter and Tetrameter in Rhymed Couplets… Sort of

    It's always time for a constipation joke, Shmoopers (poopers?): this poem ain't regular. No, seriously, buy this poem a five-stanza prune juice because its meter is all over the place. Each stanza starts out with the usual suspects, a couplet of iambic pentameter lines:

    Get up, get up for shame, the blooming morn
    Upon her wings presents the god unshorn. (1-2)

    See how these lines have five pairs of non-stressed and stressed syllables? That's some straight up iambic pentameter, folks. And see how they rhyme? What a perfect couplet.

    In fact the whole poem is composed of couplets. But the iambic pentameter flickers in and out like a candle. After the first two lines of each stanza, we get four lines of iambic tetrameter (that's four pairs of non-stressed and stressed syllables), followed by two more lines of iambic pentameter, followed by four lines of iambic tetrameter, followed by two final lines of iambic pentameter with a twist.

    Gettin' Irregular

    With a twist? Yep. Regular iambic pentameter ends on a stressed syllable:

    Besides, the childhood of the day has kept (21)

    Hear how the stress slams down on that final "kept"? Well, here's where the twist comes in. In the final lines of each stanza, Herrick tacks on an extra unstressed syllable to each line. This so-called "weak" ending is known as a feminine ending. Misogynistic much? Blame the prosodists. In "Corinna's Going A-Maying," this means that the two ending lines of each stanza actually have 11 syllables each, with five pairs of unstressed and stressed syllables:

    Many a jest told of the keys betraying (55)

    What's more, the 11th syllable is always that little –ing, since every stanza's final word is "a-Maying" and the line above (the one that forms the couplet) has to rhyme. To recap, here's a look at each stanza's meter pattern:

    • Iambic pentameter
    • Iambic pentameter
    • Iambic tetrameter
    • Iambic tetrameter
    • Iambic tetrameter
    • Iambic tetrameter
    • Iambic pentameter
    • Iambic pentameter
    • Iambic tetrameter
    • Iambic tetrameter
    • Iambic tetrameter
    • Iambic tetrameter
    • Iambic pentameter + feminine ending
    • Iambic pentameter + feminine ending

    So what's the point of all this irregularity? For one thing, it keeps the poem feeling sprightly and playful. With lines dropping and adding syllables every minute, these stanzas are anything but slug-a-beds. Hear that, Corinna? Heed the stanzas and get moving.

    Enjambment

    Another form-and-meter trick that keeps things lively is enjambment. This occurs when a sentence wraps around into the next line without a punctuation mark, like a comma, semi-colon, or period. See what Herrick does with this in the final stanza:

    And, as a vapour or a drop of rain
    Once lost, can ne'er be found again (63-64)

    Reading along line 63 we get to "drop of rain" and realize that this sentence isn't over. There's no verb to tell us what is happening to this drop of rain, there's no punctuation to lean on while we gather our thoughts. Concerned, interested, hopeful, we read right through to line 64 and find to our horror that this raindrop, once lost, can never be found again. Alack and woe!

    Even if you're not that moved by this raindrop's fate, you can see how a trick like enjambment keeps the poetry moving. With no punctuation to pause you, you hurry into the next line to see where this sentence is going. And when the point of the poem is to get someone the heck out of bed, you can see why a quickly moving poem is essential.

  • Personified Nature

    The willow dipped its fingers into the stream. The lizard cackled to itself when the girl fell on her face. Personifying nature by giving it human characteristics or motivations is an easy way to liven up the landscape: it adds symbolic depth, jazzes up the descriptions, and gives the reader a little jolt of humor or surprise.

    In "Corinna's Going A-Maying," the speaker personifies all over the place, turning the dawn and sun into mythological gods and making the flowers weep. Emphasizing the efficiency and industry of the natural world, the speaker gently scolds Corinna for being so lazy and tells her to look outside for some good examples of getting things done. At the same time, he uses personification to argue that going a-Maying is worthwhile—in fact, just as good as going to church.

    By giving the natural world human and godly characteristics, he elevates the spring into a whole alternative system of religion. In other words, don't stay inside with your rosary beads: the birds are out praying and the neighbors are playing. Spring is just as important as Christianity.

    • Lines 1-2: The dawn is compared to some lovely angel with wings outspread, while the sun is a god. He's still "unshorn" or bald because it's still early in the day and he's not sprouting a lot of beams.
    • Lines 3-4: Here the dawn is personified into Aurora, a Greek goddess. But is this one of those lounging deities who drinks nectar on a couch and watches Real Housewives of Athens? Not a chance. She's already shaking out the sheets and cleaning up for the new day.
    • Line 7: We all know how plants get covered in dew at night and turn towards the light. But notice how "bow'd" adds a religious touch to this morning scene. These flowers seem to be worshiping the rising sun (who was compared to a God in line 2).
    • Lines 10-11: Like the bowing flowers, these birds are as religious as human Christians. They've said their prayers and sung their hymns, in worship of the oncoming day.
    • Lines 21-22: Despite its busyness, nature is keeping Corinna in mind. The day has thoughtfully kept some dew in reserve for some nice, locally sourced bling.
    • Lines 25-26: Night, like the sun, is a god. And like the day, he's also thinking of Corinna. Just look at this piece of chivalry: he's willing to linger a little in order to give her more time. What a gentleman.
  • Death and Decay

    Sure, spring's all about the newborn lambs and flowering trees and hatching eggs, but where there's a rebirth, death and decay can't be too far behind. Under those jaunty yellow daffodils are the dead bodies of older daffodils. As hard as this poem celebrates May, it's also about the circle of life.

    In fact, that's the speaker's main point in the final stanza: because we're getting older every minute, we might as well have fun while we're still young and beautiful. It's all about seizing the day before you're too weak and ugly.

    • Line 57: He and Corinna are young and in love right now. There's no point in delaying their fun because they'll never be able to appreciate this much again.
    • Lines 61-64: The speaker emphasizes how short time is by comparing it to drop of rain. Okay, so you know from 5th-grade discussions of the water cycle that evaporated water isn't actually lost, but chances are, once a drop of water has evaporated, you'll never see that particular bit of H2O again. Similarly, once you die, you never get another life.
    • Lines 65-66: Notice how Herrick keeps most of his imagery on the lighter side. Instead of dropping in some graves and corpses, he keeps it artistic: one day they'll only exist as stories or poems, not as humans.
    • Lines 67-68: As Marvell observed in "To His Coy Mistress," "the grave's a fine and private place but none, I think, do there embrace." Once you're dead, all chances for fun, sex, and maypole-dancing are dead too.
    • Line 69: In this line Herrick describes a contemporary philosophy about life and death: from the moment you're born, you start dying. Pretty depressing, right? It's a death-centric view that makes it all the more urgent to make use of the time you have.
    • Steaminess Rating

      PG-13

      Wink Wink. Although lust is a major theme and the whole premise of the poem is, "Come along and make love to me," "Corinna's Going A-Maying" hides most of its sex under the covers. Still, innuendo about picking locks with keys isn't hard to figure out, and stanza 5's talk of death, decay, and disappearance is a pretty see-through ploy to convince Corinna to get it on.