Welcome back to the Richmond Read-along! Today’s poem is from Robert Herrick. His father’s death during his childhood was hugely impactful on the young Herrick; his poetry is often preoccupied with a paternal influence (or lack thereof), and his attachment to Ben Jonson was explicitly that of a son to a father figure. This intense admiration also characterised much of his poetry, as Herrick consciously adhered to Jonson’s prescriptions for how to be a great poet. After a young adulthood spent entrenched with Johnson and other literary figures of the day, Herrick became a country parson. His religious convictions come across in his writing, primarily with his selection of religious poems but also in some of his other verse.

He produced only one volume in his lifetime, but it is a significant book, containing well over 1,000 poems. The poems included in the book naturally encompass a huge variety of topics, but Herrick comes across to a modern reader as both religious and quintessentially English. Much of his verse is pastoral, dealing with country life at the time of writing, and the celebrations and superstitions that came with it. Having now fallen out of favour in mainstream culture, verses on wassailing, games of throwing cherry stones, and daffodil divination seem quaint and superstitious; at the time, they would have been pithy snapshots of modern life.

Today’s poem is on the English Queen of the fairies, Queen Mab, once a common mischievous spirit in Engish folklore and now widely banished to mentions in Shakespeare and other literature. It is worth noting that the word “slut” here is most likely a reference to its now archaic use to mean unkempt or lazy.

The Fairies

If ye will with Mab find grace,
Set each platter in his place;
Rake the fire up, and get
Water in, ere sun be set.
Wash your pails, and cleanse your dairies;
Sluts are loathsome to the fairies;
Sweep your house, who doth not so,
Mab will pinch her by the toe.

You can find this poem in Project Gutenberg‘s reproduction of Herrick’s magnum opus. Read more about Herrick at The Poetry Foundation.

Join us tomorrow for the next Richmond Read-along!