Johnson, Samuel. Lives of the English Poets. Vol. 1. New
York: E. P. Dutton, 1958. Miner, Earl, ed. Selected Poetry and Prose of John Dryden.
New York: The Modern Library, 1985.
"HIS FAREWELL TO SACK" Robert Herrick (1648) "His Farewell to Sack" proved one of Robert Herrick's most popular poems. Herrick's devotion to alcohol, particularly to "Sack," or wine, was legendary; he most often enjoyed the drink with his mentor, Ben Jonson. Jonson's literary circle enjoyed drink, discussion, and literature in various London taverns. That Herrick would give up an important part of that relationship, the alcohol that flowed so freely at such events, seemed tragic to his audience. He imbues his 54 lines of rhyming couplets in iambic pentatmeter with irony, as he addresses Sack in the manner of a best friend from whom he regretfully separates.
The speaker begins by making clear how strongly he feels regarding the impending end of his relationship with Sack: "Farewell thou Thing, time-past so known, so dear / To me, as blood to life and spirit:" Herrick stresses the urgency in this parting by using enjamb-ment, forcing the first line to flow rapidly into the second. As the Herrick biographer and scholar J. Max Patrick explains, the comparison of the relationship with Sack to that of blood to life and spirit carried a specific meaning. In the 17th century, blood, phlegm, black bile, and choler represented primary humors. Together they determined the human temperament. The heart contained pure blood, known as the vital spirit, which conducted heat, essential to life, to all body parts. When it reached the brain, the blood became the even more refined animal spirit, which, "like a messenger," flowed to the nerves, carrying important signals that linked mind and body. Use of these concepts in metaphor allowed Herrick to demonstrate his strong feelings regarding his drink. He adds more figurative language (figure of speech) in comparing his relationship to Sack with that of "friend, man, wife, / Male to the female, soul to body" as well as "The kisse of virgins; First-fruits of the bed: / Soft speech, smooth touch, the lips, the Maiden-head," the sexual references helping the lines qualify as excellent recitation for a rowdy group enjoying a round at Herrick's expense.
The speaker declares Sack "the drink of Gods, and Angels! Wine / That scatter'st Spirit and Lust," noting it outshines summer. As do comets and other portents,
'Tis thou, above Nectar, O Divinest soule!
(Eternal in thyself) that canst control
That, which subverts whole nature, grief and care;
vexation of the mind, and damn'd Despair.
Sack proves more magical and powerful than "Wis-dome, Art, or Nature," in its mysticism rousing "sacred madness" and awakening "The frost-bound blood, and spirits." Even those frosty spirits could be made frantic by Sack as it flashed "through / The soule, like lightning." The hyperbole builds until the speaker references classical deities, including Apollo, and the three muses, as well as Horace and Anacreon, all relating to art and literature. The speaker gives credit for such creative forces to the influence of Sack, soaring into praise by labeling it "thou Thespian spring!" After additional lines of glorification, the speaker wonders why he continues to address the subject of his adoration when he knows he must leave it. He accuses its bewitching nature for his lingering and explains that
Nature bids thee go, not I
'Tis her erroneous self has made a brain
Uncapable of such a Soverainge,
As is thy powerful self. (42-45)
The speaker eventually resigns himself to the fact that others will continue to indulge, drinking freely, while he must admire from afar. In the future his Muse must do without Sack's support, and he concludes, "what's done by me / Hereafter, shall smell of the Lamp, not thee."
Herrick's critics note that he wrote to be enjoyed, his whimsy intentional and his earthiness a crucial aspect of his style. When he balanced this poem with his later "The Welcome to Sack," his readers enjoyed it almost as much as his farewell. Although later generations lost patience with what some considered Her-rick's insipid tendencies, the 20th and 21st centuries, with a penchant to embrace multiple approaches to art, have rediscovered much to appreciate in a poet who could wax rhapsodic about being in his cups.
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