Nightpiece To Julia The George

Herrick (1648) When George Herrick wrote "The Night-piece, to Julia," he used as the object of his poem the ideal female figure of Julia, who appeared repeatedly in his writing. Critics have noted that this poem in particular owes much to Herrick's mentor, BEN JoNSoN, in its use of subtle rhythm. Herrick manages to imitate the action and subject matter of his poem in his varied meter, which moves from four feet to three feet to two feet, then returns to four feet in its four five-line stanzas. His speaker woos Julia at night, as indicated by the poem's title. Thus the first line incorporates imagery of the "Glow-worme," "Shooting Starres," and "Elves also, / Whose little eyes glow," their glowing compared to "the sparks of fire." While the glow worm lends Julia her eyes, indicating that her eyes appear to shine in the dark, the stars and elves "attend" her, suggesting Julia remains a child of nature. However, the reference to "sparks of fire" suggests the passion that love promotes, contradicting the theme of apparent innocence.

The second stanza well illustrates the superior use of rhythm, reading:

No Will-o'th'-Wispe mis-light thee; Nor Snake, or Slow-worme bite thee: But on, on thy way Not making a stay, Since Ghost ther's none to affright thee. (6-10)

In these lines Herrick employs repetition and beat to imitate the movement of the long skirts that Julia wears in his longer lines, while the shorter lines reproduce the quicker movement of creatures of the night. His reference to the "Slow-worme," probably meaning an adder, offers contrasts in imagery to the fireflies and other night life. The speaker does his best to convince Julia she will suffer no harm in the dark, most probably because of his presence as well as the supposed absence of threat from beasts and ghosts. Psychoanalytic critics, however, might view the worm imagery as a phallic reference, supporting the claim that the speaker attempts to seduce Julia by assuring her of her safety at night. The darkness offers assurance that certain actions may proceed unobserved; thus the speaker may reference a different type of security, that of a discrete cover for any socially censored actions.

In the third stanza the speaker urges Julia not to feel burdened by the night's darkness. The hidden moon in its "slumber" may not be available to cast light before her, but "The Starres of the night / Will lend thee their light," a light compared through the figurative language of simile to "Tapers cleare without number" (11-15). While the moon proved a romantic figure and symbolic of woman, the stars also proved romantic. The speaker notes that the moon is hidden, as Julia might also be hidden from inquisitive eyes. In addition the speaker suggests that the moon's natural light might be replaced by man's invention, the candle, whose flame represents the heat of passion.

The need for the romantic setting becomes clear by the final stanza, in which the speaker requests, "Then Julia let me wooe thee." Verse 17 contains another repetition, producing a sound that mimics the rustle of silk skirts, the entire line producing a beat near that of the waltz: "Thus, thus to come unto me." A dance step provides a metaphor for the courting ritual, its idea again suggested as the speaker notes,


And when I shall meet

Thy silv'ry feet,

My soule Ile poure into thee. (18-20)

Upholding a rich tradition, the poet has already offered his soul through his verse in this lightly seductive poem.

"The Night-piece, to Julia" represents what critics have recognized as Herrick's fascination with the fairy world, a realm found between human and divine existence. While this poem is not strictly of the "faerie lore," incorporating objects that included dew on toadstools and gossamer webs, its close view of creatures that lived low to the ground qualifies it as related to that genre. In addition its dreamy other-world quality, accomplished through imagery and references to Elves, a Ghost, and Julia's "silv'ry feet," suggests the world of fairies with which Herrick proved so enthralled.

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