Study Guide

Corinna's Going A-Maying Themes

  • Lust

    May Day is about the birds and bees, both literally and figuratively. Winter's over, nature's roaring back to life, and the budding boys and girls of Corinna's village are doing the same thing. But even with all the jokes about green-gowns and picked locks, this holiday isn't just about sex. There's honest-to-goodness courting going on in "Corinna's Going A-Maying," as well as some serious wedding planning. This lust is community-building and moment-seizing.

    Questions About Lust

    1. Has the speaker been in bed with Corinna? Is he still in bed with her? How can you tell?
    2. Is May Day more about love or lust? Is there a difference?
    3. Does the speaker want to marry Corinna? Or is he only interested in bedding her outside?
    4. Is there any evidence that Corinna lusts for the speaker?

    Chew on This

    The speaker is more consumed with lust for life than with lust for Corinna.

    May Day is mostly a holiday about sex. Or at least, that's what ol' Herrick would say.

  • Inertia

    Let's face it: she may be beautiful, she may be brilliant, she may be nicer than Santa Claus. But Corinna is kind of a drag. In fact, she's pretty much dead weight—the lazy, sleepy center of a poem that's crackling with motion. Outside nature is going a mile a minute, bringing in the dawn, closing up the night, and the humans are holding their own. Up with the roosters, the village youth have already gathered branches, eaten cake, and started planning their futures. Marriage at 9am, anyone? On a stylistic level, repetition and enjambment keep the lines racing along.

    Only Corinna is still. And while sleeping in might feel really good, "Corinna's Going A-Maying" makes it clear that laziness is a one-way ticket out of a happy life. You can sleep when you're dead, folks. Life is about actively seeking out wonderful experiences.

    Questions About Inertia

    1. Why is it so important that Corinna come a-Maying? 
    2. What about nature makes it not lazy, at least, according to Herrick?
    3. Is inertia or laziness always a sin? Or just on May Day?
    4. How do stylistic effects, like rhythm, rhyme, and rhetoric, reflect the speaker's urgency?

    Chew on This

    Going a-Maying is a metaphor for going a-lifing: a.k.a., living life to its fullest.

    According to "Corinna," laziness is a bigger sin than not being religious.

  • Time

    Here's the thing about time: it just doesn't quit. If you're Einstein, you can theorize about the relativity of time and how the universe is just one big co-op where the past, future, and present coexist. But for most of us, time is an unstoppable force that tick-tocks our way to dementia, disability, and death.

    Sound grim? It's supposed to. Stanza 5 of "Corinna's Going A-Maying" lays the grim on thick in order to persuade Corinna to seize the present and live in the moment. It's a classic carpe diem moment, but even though the speaker obviously wants to get in Corinna's green-gown, his obsession with time also indicates a more universal fear that life will pass them by.

    Questions About Time

    1. Does time get meaner when you're older? Does it speed up? How do you think the speaker would answer that? Corinna?
    2. Does it matter if you waste time when you're already old?
    3. What is the relationship between time and love in this poem? Is it the same as between time and lust?

    Chew on This

    The carpe diem theme of stanza 5 implies that sex is just one aspect of life.

    The carpe diem theme of stanza 5 argues that physical pleasure is the main purpose of life.

  • Tradition and Customs

    Congress is all about creating national holidays (hello Mothers' Day!). But what if your representatives started plotting to destroy national holidays? Pumpkin pie makes people fat? Bye-bye, Thanksgiving. Exchanging cut-out construction paper hearts encourages immorality? Sayonara, Valentine's Day. We'd all be pretty pissed, right? Everyone needs a day off. Plus, holidays aren't just about sleeping in and watching Netflix all day. They're also about getting together with friends and family and celebrating traditions. Uncle Bob's deep-fried turkey? Heck yes.

    Herrick feels the same way. Although it doesn't sound very political, "Corinna's Going A-Maying" is actually an in-your-face revolt against the Puritan ban on May Day. Sure, this holiday might get a little naughty around the edges, but at its heart, it's a festival that reinforces community, celebrates nature, and promotes wholesome rustic traditions. Cakes with cream and DIY decorations out of flowering branches? That's the true religion of village life.

    Questions About Tradition and Customs

    1. What's the relationship between Christianity and May Day in the poem?
    2. What's the relationship between civic government and May Day in British history?
    3. This festival is very community-oriented. How does that affect the speaker's lust?
    4. Why does the speaker use "sin" in the pagan context of May Day?

    Chew on This

    Herrick thinks that nature-oriented community traditions should replace Christianity.

    Put in its historical context, "Corinna" argues that nature is a more source of power than Parliament.

  • Man and the Natural World

    If Christianity is an inside religion—churches, monasteries, saying prayers round the kitchen table—then May Day paganism is definitely an outside religion. It exists to welcome in the spring, and it's no surprise that this poem is bursting at the seams with nature.

    But there's a lot going on here. In the first two stanzas, nature is personified into powerful mythological gods and goddesses who control the weather, passage of time, and all growing things. But in the next three stanzas, nature takes a back seat to a horde of busy villagers who are out scrambling across the countryside to pick, weave, trim, and decorate nature into artistic submission. May Day doesn't just sit in a pew and passively worship the glory of spring; it jumps in with gardening gloves and clippers. It's craft time.

    Questions About Man and the Natural World

    1. What is the community's relationship with the natural world?
    2. Why does the speaker talk so much about nature?
    3. What is the effect of giving the natural world human characteristics, like making flowers weep?
    4. Is love more natural outside or inside?

    Chew on This

    May Day is a celebration of the power of the natural world.

    May Day is a celebration of respectful human power over the natural world.