Glow-worms, shooting stars, and elves: all can be found in ‘The Night Piece: To Julia’, a charming poem by the seventeenth-century poet Robert Herrick. And that’s just the first three lines! The last line invites a sexual reading, a sign of the thinly-veiled eroticism that pervades Herrick’s Julia poems. (Though here we might add foot-fetishism as well.) Before we offer a few words of analysis of this charming poem, here’s a reminder of it.
The Night Piece: To Julia
Her eyes the glow-worm lend thee,
The shooting stars attend thee;
And the elves also,
Whose little eyes glow
Like the sparks of fire, befriend thee.
No Will-o’-th’-Wisp mis-light thee,
Nor snake or slow-worm bite thee;
But on, on thy way,
Not making a stay,
Since ghost there’s none to affright thee.
Let not the dark thee cumber;
What though the moon does slumber?
The stars of the night
Will lend thee their light,
Like tapers clear without number.
Then Julia let me woo thee,
Thus, thus to come unto me;
And when I shall meet
Thy silv’ry feet,
My soul I’ll pour into thee.
One of the most pleasing things about ‘The Night Piece: To Julia’ is how the rhyme scheme and (loosely) the stanza form follow what we now know as the limerick form: five lines, rhymed aabba, with the third and fourth lines being shorter than the others. All other similarities aside, this metre does lend ‘The Night Piece: To Julia’ a sprightly, gay, and hopping quality, as if echoing those dancing and bright creatures which lend Julia her light as she makes her way through the night – presumably for a late-night tryst with Herrick (or Herrick’s speaker, at any rate).
That final stanza, with its use of the word ‘come’ and the idea of the poet pouring his soul into her, certainly contains an erotic charge; but the whole poem is animated by lights, heat, fire, glowing, and other throbbing energies associated with the carnal. And ‘The Night Piece: To Julia’ is, after all, a seduction poem: Herrick is seeking to reassure his beloved that she will safely find her way to him so that he can take her to bed with him. If she has any doubts or misgivings over making the perilous journey in the dark, she needn’t worry: lights, as the poets of a different age put it, will guide her home, or at least to him.
If you enjoyed Herrick’s ‘The Night Piece: To Julia’, you might also enjoy our analysis of his ‘To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time’.