A Linguistic Analysis of 'To Daffodils'

To Daffodils
by Robert Herrick

Fair daffodils, we weep to see
You haste away so soon;
As yet the early-rising sun
Has not attain’d his noon.
Stay, stay
Until the hasting day
Has run
But to the evensong;
And, having pray’d together, we
Will go with you along.
We have short time to stay, as you,
We have as short a spring;
As quick a growth to meet decay,
As you, or anything.
We die
As your hours do, and dry
Like to the summer’s rain;
Or as the pearls of morning’s dew,
Ne’er to be found again.

‘To Daffodils’ by Robert Herrick is a short lyric divided into two stanzas, the first addressing the daffodils and the second moving on to people and life in general. The central idea presented by the poet in this poem is that like the flowers we humans have a very short life in this world. The poet laments that we too like all other beautiful things soon slip into the shadow and silence of grave. A sad and thoughtful mood surrounds the poem. Throughout the poem, the poet employs various phonetic, lexical, syntactic, semantic and contextual devices for the expression of his aesthetic concept- the brevity of the youth in the human life.

In the poem ‘To Daffodils’ the speaker makes an analogy between the life of the Daffodil and the short life-span of humans. The speaker begins by saying that we grieve to see the beautiful daffodils being wasted away very quickly. The duration of their gloom is so short that it seems even the rising sun still hasn’t reached the noon-time. Thus, in the very beginning the poet has struck a note of mourning at the fast dying of daffodils. The poet then addresses the daffodils and asks them to stay until the day ends with the evening prayer. After praying together he says that he will also accompany the daffodils. This is so because like flowers men too have a very transient life and even the youth is also very short-lived.

Phonological features:

This poem which includes two parts is grouped into stanzas of ten lines. The poem has alterative stressed, unstressed syllables and irregular lines, which create the rhythm of the poem or in other words, the meters of the poem.  There are end rhymes in this poem and the poet cut and separated the fifth lines of both stanzas into two lines because he wanted to achieve the form of rhyme and rhythm. Thus, at the end of some lines, there is no punctuation mark.

Lexical Features:

The words used by the speaker to convey the meaning of the poem are accurate, vivid, expressive and plentiful. In order to describe the brevity  of the Daffodils’ life the speaker uses such expressions as ‘haste away’, ‘growth to meet decay’,’die’, ‘dry Away’ etc.

The word “haste” is an action verb which is powerful enough to express the swift motion of time. Here the poet also personifies the Daffodils and his use of the word ‘decay’, ‘die’, and ‘dry’ evoke a note of melancholy/sadness in his poem which arises out of the realization that beauty of the Daffodils as well as all beauties are not going to stay forever.

Syntactic features:

The language of the poem is simple clear and easy to be understood which makes the poem more close to the readers. With his simple language, the poet has painted the cycle of daffodils’ life in a beautiful way.  There are no very strange and complicated sentences in this poem. Most of the sentences obey the grammar rules. As the poet personifies the daffodils, the poem develops as a conversation between the poet and the daffodils. There is also an imperative sentence in the poem such as ‘Stay, stay’, which makes the expression more forceful and convincing.

Semantic features:

Semantics deals with the meaning system of language. It is the scientific study of the meaning of words. Personification is a typical rhetorical device used in any poems. Here  the poet also has personified the daffodils and attributed several human qualities to the daffodils. Apart from the daffodils, ‘day’ and ‘hours’ are also personified. Most of the words of the poem are monosyllabic and used in denotative sense. The poet also uses some other figures of speech like ‘simile’ and ‘metaphor’, especially in the concluding lines.

We die
As your hours do, and dry
Like to the summer’s rain;
Or as the pearls of morning’s dew,
Ne’er to be found again.

The poem “To Daffodils’ is a beautiful poem if considered from the analysis of the phonological, lexical, syntactic and semantic features of the poem. Thus, the content of the poem combined with a beautiful style transmits the poet’s idea that life is short and the beautiful moments of our life quickly pass away.