Robert Herrick, poet

2 February 2020

Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve

Down with the rosemary, and so
Down with the bays and mistletoe;
Down with the holly, ivy, all
Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas hall;
That so the superstitious find
No one least branch there left behind;
For look, how many leaves there be
Neglected there, maids, trust to me,
So many goblins you shall see.

by Robert Herrick

Robert Herrick (24 Aug 1591 to 15 Oct 1674) was an English cleric[1] and poet at the time of the English Civil War. He was born in Cheapside, London, where his father was a prosperous goldsmith.

Herrick had strong connections with Leicestershire, however, with his grandfather having been Mayor of Leicester and his uncle the wealthy Leicester MP Robert Herrick, who owned the grounds of the former Greyfriars Abbey in which Richard III was buried.

Herrick’s best-known work is a book of poems called ‘Hesperides,’ published in 1648 and containing the poem which begins with the line ‘Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.’ 

Candlemas is a Christian holy day to mark the fortieth day after the birth of Jesus.  This was traditionally the period when the mother of a child was blessed in church after it was born, following which she was allowed to end her time isolating at home and re-join the community. 

In the Christian faith, Candlemas commemorates the presentation of Mary and her son Jesus at the temple.  Christmas was fixed as December 25 by Pope Liberius in the year AD 354, so the fortieth day following this is therefore February 2.[2]

Though many people take down their Christmas decorations on Twelfth Night, in some Christian countries it’s traditional to do this at Candlemas, hence Robert Herrick’s poem.

Find out more about Candlemas is here.

[1] Priest of the Christian faith
[2] Source: here and here.