Human Resources: Class and Cannibalism in Herrick’s ‘The Hock-Cart’

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Herrick’s “The Hock-Cart, or Harvest Home: To the Right Honourable, Mildmay, Earle of Westmorland” was composed at a time when the unpropertied rural laborers it depicts were facing unprecedented economic hardship—years which one historian has described as “probably the most terrible … through which the country has ever passed.” It is often noted that the final lines of the poem give an unusually frank glimpse of their disempowered state, but this is normally seen as no more than a jarring note in a poem which otherwise reaffirms and celebrates the harmony of their relations with a benevolent landlord. On a closer reading, however, the unsettling close appears as merely the culmination of undercurrents running throughout the poem. Beneath the surface celebration, with its deeply conservative implications, runs a somber critique of socioeconomic injustice and oppression, which draws on traditions of political protest stretching from the Old Testament to contemporary pamphleteers. As well as revealing the artistry with which Herrick’s deeply ambivalent poem sustains its two incompatible perspectives, this reading prompts further reflection on Herrick’s sense of his own socioeconomic position, of his relationship with his wealthy patron, and of the constraints on and purposes of his lyric composition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-99
Number of pages38
JournalEnglish Literary Renaissance
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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