Robert Herrick (baptized August 24, 1591 - October 1674) was a 17th century English poet. Born in Cheapside, London, he was the seventh child and fourth son of Nicholas Herrick, a prosperous goldsmith, who committed suicide when Robert was a year old. It is likely that he attended Westminster School. In 1607 he became apprenticed to his uncle, Sir William Herrick, who was a goldsmith and jeweller to the king. The apprenticeship ended after only six years when Herrick, at age twenty-two, matriculated at St John's College, Cambridge. He graduated in 1617.
Robert Herrick became a member of the Sons of Ben, a group of Cavalier poets centered around an admiration for the works of Ben Jonson. In or before 1627, he took religious orders, and, having been appointed chaplain to the duke of Buckingham, accompanied him on his disastrous expedition to the Isle of Rhé (1627). He became vicar of the parish of Dean Prior, Devon in 1629, a post that carried a term of thirty-one years. It was in the secluded country life of Devon that he wrote some of his best work.
In the wake of the English Civil War, his position was revoked on account of his refusal to make pledge to the Solemn League and Covenant. He then returned to London. His position was returned to him in the Restoration of Charles II and he returned to Devon in 1662, residing there until his death in 1674. Herrick was a bachelor all his life, and many of the women he names in his poems are thought to be fictional.
His reputation rests on his Hesperides, a collection of lyric poetry, and the much shorter Noble Numbers, spiritual works, published together in 1648. He is well-known for his style and, in his earlier works, frequent references to lovemaking and the female body. His later poetry was more of a spiritiual and philosophical nature. Among his most famous short poetical sayings are the unique monometers, such as "Thus I / Pass by / And die,/ As one / Unknown / And gone."
The opening stanza in one of his more famous poems, "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time", is as follows:
- Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
- Old Time is still a-flying;
- And this same flower that smiles today,
- Tomorrow will be dying.
This poem is an example of the carpe diem genre; the popularity of Herrick's poems of this kind helped revive the genre.