All quotations from Herbert's English poems are taken from Wilcox's edition. Sequence titles are in Latin; individual poem titles appear here in English translation only. Due to its closeness to the Vulgate, which Herbert often echoes, the King James translation is our source for biblical quotations. Since Hutchinson's notes generally offer allusions in Latin or Greek only, Catherine Freis provides English translations.
To the Most Majestic and Mighty Monarch JAMES
Line 1. The poem begins with a reference to the "fertile shore of the receding Nile" (l. 1). Herbert alludes again to the Nile River in Musae Responsoriae's concluding poem (40), comparing the flow of the "sweet Spirit" to the Nile's flow: "Just as, ungoverned by dikes, / The Nile pours out with its lovely flow" (ll. 9-10). Herbert begins by addressing King James, and Poem 39 is also addressed to King James. Ending a sequence with the same elements found in the beginning is a technique found in Latin and Greek poetry to provide a sense of closure.
Line 1-2. See Ovid Metamorphoses I (ll. 422-31) for the commonly held belief that the mud of the receding Nile combined with the heat of the sun spontaneously generates new creatures (animalia, l. 425) annually. Shakespeare is another who notes this phenomenon: "Your serpent of Egypt is bred now of your mud by the operation of your Sun: so is your Crocodile" (Anthony and Cleopatra 2.7.25-26). Herbert may be thinking of these creatures specifically since he uses repere ("to creep, crawl") in line 5, a verb often used to describe the motion of serpents and other reptiles. In Spenser's Faerie Queene, Chrysogenee's fruitfulness is compared to the Nile mud's (III.vi.8). See also Izaak Walton's The Compleat Angler, in his description of eel's reproduction: "some say they breed as worms do, of mud; as rats and mice, and many other living creatures are bred in Egypt, by the sun's heat, when it shines upon the overflowing of the River Nilus, or out of the putrefaction of the earth, and divers other ways" (179). See also "The Church Militant": "Nilus for monsters brought forth Israelites" (l. 44). [End Page 238]
To the Most Renowned and Lofty CHARLES
Line 1. The meter is hendecasyllabic, Catullus's preferred meter. Herbert's first line also echoes Catullus's Carmen I. In his dedicatory poem to Cornelius, Catullus offers his addressee a nouum libellum ("new little book") (l. 1). Herbert offers Prince Charles a chartum … recentem ("a newly written page").
Line 10-11. This idea of a youth being old because of his wisdom could be said to be shared by Herbert as he thinks of himself in his response to Melville; see Poem 2, "To Melville," ll. 1-4.
To the Most Reverend Father and Lord in Christ, BISHOP OF WINCHESTER
Line 3. See Ovid, Amores I (ll. 1-4), where the poet comments that although he was preparing to write dactylic hexameters, a meter befitting the gravity of his proposed theme of war, Cupid laughed and stole a foot (unum … pedem, l. 4). Consequently Ovid was forced to undertake the lighter theme of love elegy using the elegiac couplet, a meter that alternates between dactylic hexameters and dactylic pentameters. Hence the elegiac couplet may be called "lame" (clauda) because of the unequal length of its verses, as in Ovid's Tristia 3.1.11-12.
1. To the King: The Reason for Writing Epigrams
In this poem, Herbert explains why he writes many short poems in a variety of measures, in opposition to Melville's one long poem in a single meter, the Sapphic. In writing short and select "morsels" for the table of the King in preference to a long poem, Herbert is returning to standards set by the Greek Hellenistic poet Callimachus, and followed by Roman poets in the Republic and Augustan ages. The brevity of the verses is attributed to consideration for the king rather than indifference to his greatness and indirectly praises the discernment of the king in his learned preference for the short and polished poems praised by Callimachus...