Upon Julia’s Clothes by Robert Herrick

Whenas in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.

Next, when I cast mine eyes and see
That brave vibration each way free;
O how that glittering taketh me!


The sub-genre of the piscatory/amatory poem was popular in the Renaissance, a time when poets used metaphor — by indirections finding directions out — to test the waters, so to speak, and to raise the ante, as wit was highly valued in paramours and the pastoral already more nostalgic than realistic.  The playful employment of the angler-and-catch trope reflected the codified system of public behavior, especially in matters of love.  In Herrick’s little poem, the game gets a little shiftier, as the narrator seems to be the one attracted to the lure, but he also “casts” his eyes, so who’s catching, who’s being caught?  The opening line of this poem always puts me in mind of the “silken lines and silver hooks” of Donne’s “The Bait,” but the “liquefaction” rolling off the tongue is Herrick’s alone.  A reader has to be pretty bloodless to hear the exhilaration in the final line and not envy the speaker.  Perhaps this submarine sub-genre is due for a resurrection itself.

Anyone care to extend the tradition?  All offerings welcome in the comment section below.

recent-meR. T. Smith has edited Shenandoah since 1995 and serves as Writer-in-Residence at Washington & Lee. His forthcoming books are Doves in Flight: 13 Fictions and Summoning Shades: New Poems, both due in 2017.