Robert Herrick's uses of the Petrarchan conceits



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Most of the critical studies of the seventeenth-century poet Robert Herrick have attributed the erotic imagery in his poetry to classical imitation, although a few critics have commented in passing on Petrarchan motifs in his poetry, recognizing that his Elizabethan predecessors might just as well have been his source. Herrick's participation in the anti-Petrarchan movement and his interest in aesthetic experimentation have also been noted by his critics. The purpose of this thesis is to trace the development of the Petrarchan conceits from their classical origins to the sixteenth-century English sonneteers, in order to show that these conventional images were as much a part of Herrick's native as his classical heritage, and to examine the relationship which exists between Herrick's uses of the conceits, his un-Petrarchan and anti-Petrarchan sentiments, and his interest in exploring the subtleties of words, rhythms, and images. Petrarchan conceits may be divided into three basic categories: the portrayal of love, the description of the effects of love upon the lover's physical and mental state and the description of the beauty of the lady. The Petrarchan conceits did not originate in the poetry of Petrarch. Most are of classical origin and were passed down through Ovid to the twelfth and thirteenth-century Provencal poets, and from these troubadours to the poets of Italy. Of the Italian love poets, Petrarch was most revered, and his imitators adopted not only his sonnet form but the conceits of his poetry as well. [...]