Poem of the Week #1 – To Daffodils by Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

Narcissus poeticus–Poet’s daffodil

To Daffodils – Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

Fair Daffodils, we weep to see 
You haste away so soon; 
As yet the early-rising sun 
Has not attain’d his noon. 
Stay, stay, 
Until the hasting day 
Has run 
But to the even-song; 
And, having pray’d together, we 
Will go with you along. 

We have short time to stay, as you, 
We have as short a spring; 
As quick a growth to meet decay, 
As you, or anything. 
We die 
As your hours do, and dry 
Like to the summer’s rain; 
Or as the pearls of morning’s dew, 
Ne’er to be found again. 

A poem for the spring now coming round again, albeit very hesitatingly this year in Stockholm. It snowed briefly this morning, and the forecast for the coming week is hardly less dismal.

Meter and form

The verse is iambic, with the lines of varying length (eight, six or two syllables in each). The shortness of the lines reflects the pared-down nature of the poem itself.


While certainly less known than Wordsworth’s greatly overrated daffodil poem, Herrick’s work is superior. It is one of those rare works whose sheer simplicity and honesty magnify the immediate effect on the reader. As a pretty little flower is best appreciated by not deracinating it, it feels like poems like this shouldn’t be dissected and explained. Nonetheless, here come the pruning shears…

The poet considers the temporality of daffodils, whose beauty lasts no longer than the spring. This is transferred in the second stanza onto human life. The tragedy of our lives is not just in its fleeting brevity nor its decay, but also in its pettiness. In the simile of the penultimate line (“as the pearls of morning’s dew”) it is reduced to something far more fleeting and minuscule even than that of the daffodils themselves.

Oh how well Herrick understood, that April is the cruellest month!

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