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This article is taken from PN Review 222, Volume 41 Number 4, March - April 2015.

Vestiges 13: Robert Herrick Adam Crothers
1648 edition of Hesperides

Reproduced by permission of the Master and Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge

‘Gold I’ve none, for use or show’, writes Robert Herrick in ‘Lyrick for Legacies’. For use or show? Flashing literal gold about one’s person or property would be taken as an indication of wealth: the ‘show’ would follow on from, imply the capacity for, broader ‘use’. Yet here Herrick posits a more equal relationship between the two applications, practical and visual (which would not have been the case had he named them in the reverse order). Is this troublesome in a poem that humbly asks for ‘such coynes as these’, these lyrics, to be accepted in lieu of money as their composer’s legacy?

Not especially; nor indeed is it ironic that this 1648 edition of Hesperides should find itself bound in gold-tooled red Morocco leather in the poet’s Cambridge college. Herrick knew that appearances matter: erotic feeling and romantic affection are as much fuelled by as fuel for a sense of physical beauty, and in its fetishising of verbal texture poetry can reasonably be described as a superficial art. ‘The Carkanet’ considers the dynamics of material enhancement thus:

About her spotlesse neck she knit
The lace, to honour me, or it:
Then think how wrapt I was to see
My Jet t’enthrall such Ivorie.

The rhyme-mandated aside, ‘or it’, is a lovely touch, suggesting that a decoration might be improved by that ...

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