Robert Herrick was born in London in 1591 and died in 1674 at the age of 83, which is quite remarkable considering that he lived through a war with the French, the English Civil War and outbreaks of the Black Death. These were very troubled times and in 1648, when Herrick was in his late fifties, he published his life’s work in a volume of poetry called 'Hesperides: Or, The Works Both Humane & Divine'. Over the centuries, Herrick has often been dismissed as a ‘minor poet’ yet Hesperides contains some of the best known lines in English poetry, amongst which are these from 'To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time':
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
There are just over 1,400 poems in 'Hesperides: Or, The Works Both Humane & Divine'. Seventy four of them mention a woman called Julia. There are many other poems in the collection that don’t actually name Julia yet are obviously about her. Herrick’s obsession with this woman accounts for about 10% of the poetry in Hesperides, which prompts an oft asked question: who was Julia? Nothing is known about her. There is no historical record. This extended essay examines Herrick’s life and his poetry and the Julia poems in an attempt to discover the real Julia, and comes to a somewhat startling conclusion.
The essay runs to approx. 16,000 words and is followed by a selection of 40 Herrick poems.