• Good question. My guess is that it means “earth that gives ease” or “earth in which one takes one’s ease.” After all, this is poetry – one tries to do all the sorts of things that words can do, rather than seeking the commonest uses only.


  1. I don’t believe that Herrick wants us to think that there’s anything “easy” about standing next to the grave of a small child. But you didn’t say that, did you; nor does the poem. The point of choosing “easy” to describe the loose dirt covering the body at burial–or, if it is an old grave that the family visits regularly (or even that strangers walking among the tombstones come upon suddenly) – – is to emphasize the horror, not to imply that the child is somehow “at ease,” resting in peace, to take the old prayer literally. No, burying a child is probably the hardest thing a parent could be asked to do, and the speaker is expressing that with very precise irony through the use of “easy.” It is a clever touch to call attention to the rather common (in everyday speech) eliding of “The” and “easy.” Herrick didn’t have to write it that way because the effect on the rhythm would be the same. In print it sort of hides, almost, the second word, which is the heart of the poem. The irony doesn’t come through completey until we see the word “covers,” at which point the eye returns to “easy” and the mind thinks, “What?” At that jarring moment, the emotions reverse and become intense.

    (Whew .Twelve long lines for four short ones, and who knows if it helps. I’ll take poetry over prose any day.)


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