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Charm me asleep, and melt me so
With thy delicious numbers,
That, being ravish’d, hence I go
Away in easy slumbers.
Ease my sick head,
And make my bed,
Thou power that canst sever
From me this ill,
And quickly still,
Though thou not kill
Thou sweetly canst convert the same
From a consuming fire
Into a gentle licking flame,
And make it thus expire.
Then make me weep
My pains asleep;
And give me such reposes
That I, poor I,
May think thereby
I live and die
Fall on me like the silent dew,
Or like those maiden showers
Which, by the peep of day, do strew
A baptism o’er the flowers.
Melt, melt my pains
With thy soft strains;
That, having ease me given,
With full delight
I leave this light,
And take my flight
–Robert Herrick, To Music, to becalm his Fever (ca. 1660) in Chrysomela: A Selection from the Lyrical Poems of Robert Herrick p. 229 (F.T. Palgrave ed. 1876)
Download a reading of Herrick’s To Music for your iPod or MP3 player here.
Of the seventeenth century English poets, Herrick’s work has the closest inherent relationship to music. It is melodious, and most of his poems (excepting perhaps the more religiously themed ones) have the character of song about them. Among his contemporaries, in fact, Herrick is called “the songwriter,” and settings of some of his poems survive (unfortunately for him, the poetry is much better than the music.) Still reading this particularly beautiful effort (note especially: “Fall on me like the silent dew, / Or like those maiden showers/ Which, by the peep of day, do strew/ A baptism o’er the flowers.” The construction and language are wonderful), I think immediately of John Dowland’s songs, especially the Second and Third Books. There is an inescapably downbeat angle to them, but they are beautiful, lyrical and thematically very close to Herrick.
Listen to John Dowland’s Lachrymae Pavane as performed by Winston Arblaster in the Bishop’s Chapel, Wells, England – there are no lyrics for this “dance of tears,” so imagine Herrick’s appeal to the curative power of music.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”