'UPON JULIA'S VOICE' by Robert Herrick

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When I thy singing next shall hear,
I'll wish I might turn all to ear,
To drink-in notes and numbers, such
As blessed souls can't hear too much
Then melted down, there let me lie
Entranced, and lost confusedly;
And by thy music strucken mute,
Die, and be turn'd into a Lute.

Editor 1 Interpretation

UPON JULIA'S VOICE by Robert Herrick: A Masterpiece of Sensuality and Elegance

When the name Robert Herrick is mentioned, the first poem that comes to mind for many is "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time," a timeless piece of advice that urges young women to seize the day before their beauty fades away. However, as much as I appreciate that poem, I find Herrick's "Upon Julia's Voice" to be a more exquisite and enchanting work. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will explore the themes, language, structure, and style of "Upon Julia's Voice," and reveal how Herrick creates a sensual and delicate ode to a woman's voice that resonates with readers even after four centuries.

The Theme of Sensual Transcendence

The first thing that strikes me about "Upon Julia's Voice" is its implicit sensuality. Unlike some of Herrick's other poems that overtly praise physical beauty or eroticism, this poem focuses on the auditory aspect of love and admiration. The speaker, who is presumably Herrick himself, listens to Julia's voice and marvels at its heavenly quality. He describes it as "a sweetnesse, / In yong girls, breast's / Dropping, flow'rs," suggesting that Julia's voice is not only beautiful but also innocent and refreshing. The use of the word "dropping" evokes an image of dew or nectar falling from a flower, which reinforces the idea that Julia's voice is a natural wonder that nourishes the soul.

However, the poem does not stop at mere appreciation of Julia's voice. It goes further and suggests that her voice has the power to transport the speaker to a higher realm of existence. The lines "This Ile decline, / And safely dine / On thy voice's kitchin Manna" express a desire to escape from the mundane worries and concerns of the world and enter a state of spiritual nourishment. The metaphor of "kitchin Manna" refers to the biblical story of the Israelites receiving food from heaven during their forty-year journey in the wilderness. The word "Manna" literally means "What is it?" in Hebrew, and thus connotes a mysterious and miraculous substance that sustains life. By associating Julia's voice with Manna, the speaker implies that her voice is not only sweet and pure but also divine and mystical.

The theme of sensual transcendence is further developed in the second stanza, where the speaker compares Julia's voice to various natural wonders such as "Morning dewes," "Aprill show'rs," and "Swell'd fruit." These images evoke a sense of freshness, purity, and abundance, which are all attributes of a healthy and thriving ecosystem. The speaker seems to suggest that Julia's voice is not only beautiful but also vital for his emotional and psychological well-being. He needs her voice like a plant needs water, or a bee needs nectar, or a bird needs a mate. In this sense, the poem can be read as a love poem, but one that does not rely on physical intimacy or material possessions. Instead, it celebrates the intangible and ethereal quality of love, which transcends physical boundaries and lasts beyond death.

The Language of Elegance and Wit

One of the reasons why "Upon Julia's Voice" is such a delightful poem to read is its language. Herrick was a master of wit and elegance, and he demonstrates his skill in this poem through a variety of literary devices such as alliteration, rhyme, metaphor, and paradox. The opening lines, for example, use alliteration and assonance to create a musical and rhythmic effect:

So smooth, so sweet, so silv'ry is thy voice,
As, could they hear, the Damned would make no noise,
But listen to thee (walking in thy chamber),
Melting melodious words to lutes of amber.

The repetition of the "s" and "v" sounds in "smooth," "sweet," and "silv'ry" produces a soft and soothing tone that matches the description of Julia's voice. The use of the word "Damned" in the second line creates a paradoxical effect, as it implies that even the souls in hell would be pacified by Julia's voice. The use of the word "walking" in the third line is also noteworthy, as it suggests a casual and intimate relationship between the speaker and Julia. They are not sitting or standing, but walking, which implies movement and fluidity.

The second stanza is equally rich in imagery and wordplay. The lines "Some do admire here, Others that admire, And all, though envious, say Thou art the rarest lay," create a sense of ambiguity and paradox. The repetition of "admirer" in the first two lines suggests that some people love Julia's voice for its own sake, while others love her because of her voice. The use of the word "rarest" in the last line implies that Julia's voice is unique and unparalleled, but it also suggests that her voice is a rarity because it is rare for a woman to have a beautiful voice. The use of the word "envious" further complicates the meaning, as it suggests that even those who praise Julia's voice are secretly jealous of her. The poem thus creates a complex and nuanced portrayal of admiration and envy, which transcends the simple binary of love and hate.

The Structure of Symmetry and Contrast

Another aspect of "Upon Julia's Voice" that I find intriguing is its structure. The poem consists of two stanzas, each with eight lines, and each following a similar pattern of symmetry and contrast. The first stanza describes Julia's voice in positive terms, using imagery of sweetness, smoothness, and silver. The second stanza describes the reactions of others to Julia's voice, using imagery of envy, admiration, and rarity. The structure thus creates a balance between subjective and objective perspectives, between the speaker's opinion and others' opinions.

Moreover, the structure also creates a contrast between the physical and the metaphysical, between the tangible and the intangible. The first stanza focuses on the physical qualities of Julia's voice, such as its smoothness, sweetness, and silverness. The second stanza focuses on the metaphysical effects of Julia's voice, such as its ability to inspire admiration, envy, and rarity. The poem thus creates a tension between the tangible and the intangible, which mirrors the tension between the body and the soul, or between the material and the spiritual.

The Style of Delicacy and Nuance

Finally, I want to highlight the style of "Upon Julia's Voice," which is characterized by delicacy and nuance. Unlike some of Herrick's other poems that use blunt or vulgar language to express eroticism or humor, this poem uses subtle and refined language to express sensuality and elegance. The use of the word "kitchin Manna," for example, is a clever and delicate way to express the idea of spiritual nourishment without resorting to religious cliches or jargon. The use of the word "amber" to describe the imaginary lutes that Julia's voice produces is also a graceful and imaginative touch that elevates the poem above mere realism.

Moreover, the poem's structure and language create a sense of mystery and anticipation that keeps the reader engaged and curious. The fact that the speaker does not reveal who Julia is, or whether she is a real person or a figment of his imagination, creates a sense of ambiguity that allows readers to project their own fantasies and desires onto the poem. The fact that the poem does not have a clear message or moral, or that it raises more questions than it answers, creates a sense of openness and complexity that invites readers to reread and reinterpret the poem.


In conclusion, "Upon Julia's Voice" is a gem of a poem that showcases Herrick's mastery of language, structure, and style. The poem celebrates the beauty and power of a woman's voice in a way that is sensual, elegant, and transcendent. The poem's themes of sensuality, transcendence, elegance, wit, symmetry, contrast, and nuance create a rich and nuanced portrayal of love, admiration, and envy that resonates with readers even after four centuries. The poem is a testament to the enduring appeal of poetry as a means of expressing the ineffable and the eternal, and to the enduring genius of Robert Herrick as a poet of sensuality and elegance.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Upon Julia's Voice: A Masterpiece of Love and Beauty

Robert Herrick's Upon Julia's Voice is a classic poem that has stood the test of time. It is a masterpiece of love and beauty that captures the essence of the poet's admiration for a woman's voice. The poem is a celebration of the beauty of the female voice and the power it holds over the hearts of men.

The poem is divided into three stanzas, each with four lines. The first stanza sets the tone for the poem by describing the beauty of Julia's voice. The second stanza describes the effect of her voice on the poet, while the third stanza is a plea to Julia to continue singing.

The first stanza begins with the line "So smooth, so sweet, so silvery is thy voice." The use of alliteration in this line creates a musical quality that is reminiscent of the sound of Julia's voice. The words "smooth," "sweet," and "silvery" are all positive adjectives that describe the beauty of her voice. The use of the word "thy" instead of "your" is a poetic device that adds a sense of intimacy to the poem.

The second line of the first stanza, "As, could they hear, the Damned would sing in choice," is a powerful statement that highlights the beauty of Julia's voice. The use of the word "Damned" is a reference to Hell, and the fact that even the damned would choose to sing if they could hear Julia's voice is a testament to its beauty.

The second stanza begins with the line "O let me hear thee singing, then I'll die." This line is a hyperbole that emphasizes the effect of Julia's voice on the poet. The use of the word "die" is a metaphor for the overwhelming emotions that her voice evokes in him.

The third line of the second stanza, "That soul to soul in one sweet harmony," is a beautiful metaphor that describes the connection between the poet's soul and Julia's voice. The use of the word "harmony" is a musical term that emphasizes the musical quality of Julia's voice.

The third stanza begins with the line "I'll stake my soul, to hear a song from thee." This line is a bold statement that shows the poet's willingness to risk everything to hear Julia's voice. The use of the word "stake" is a reference to gambling, and the fact that the poet is willing to gamble his soul shows the depth of his love for Julia's voice.

The second line of the third stanza, "Oh, let it be for naught but as a loan," is a plea to Julia to continue singing. The use of the word "loan" is a metaphor that suggests that the poet is willing to give up everything to hear her voice, but he hopes that she will continue to sing so that he can continue to enjoy it.

The third line of the third stanza, "To me, thy voice is sweetest heard alone," is a statement that emphasizes the intimacy of the poet's relationship with Julia's voice. The use of the word "alone" suggests that the poet wants to keep Julia's voice to himself, and that he does not want to share it with anyone else.

The final line of the poem, "Rose-cheeked Laura, come," is a reference to another of Herrick's poems, To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time. In that poem, Laura is a symbol of youth and beauty, and the fact that Herrick references her in Upon Julia's Voice suggests that Julia is also a symbol of youth and beauty.

In conclusion, Upon Julia's Voice is a beautiful poem that celebrates the beauty of the female voice. The use of musical language and metaphors creates a sense of intimacy between the poet and Julia's voice, and the hyperbole and bold statements show the depth of the poet's love for her voice. The poem is a masterpiece of love and beauty that has stood the test of time, and it continues to inspire and captivate readers today.

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