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“That liquefaction of her clothes”

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Robert Herrick writes six lines Upon Julia’s Clothes:


Whenas in silks my Julia goes

Then, then (methinks) how sweetly flows

That liquefaction of her clothes.


Next, when I cast mine eyes and see

That brave vibration each way free,

O how that glittering taketh me!




I’ve pondered this poem for decades, mostly because the “liquefaction of her clothes” is just about the bestest description of some long, heavy, sweeping, sussurant, layered garment. Last night, however, I realized that the poem can also be easily read as a description of a man watching a woman masturbating, turning herself on, and having an orgasm.


I derive the turn-on from a crashingly literal interpretation of both the sweet flow and the “liquefaction of her clothes” — i.e., her lubricating her clothes from the intensity of her desire. The “brave vibration each way free” connotes an expansive release, reminiscent of the way that some people flail and fling all their limbs out when they hit orgasm. The “glittering” could easily be flashes of perspiration glinting as the woman exerts herself, or the shine from her wide-open eyes, or even the speaker’s dazzled perceptions.


The assumption of masturbation requires a little more explication. The poem sets the scene as one between two people, Julia and the poet. If we’re going with the orgasmic interpretation, let’s assume that Julia is somehow getting turned on. However, we have no indication that the speaker is interacting with Julia in any way that contributes to her desire [although she could arguably get off on being watched, I suppose]. Thus, for this reading, process of elimination suggests that Julia is taking matters into her own hands.



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