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From Middle English herkenen (to listen (attentively); to pay attention, take heed) [and other forms],[1] from Old English hercnian, heorcnian, hyrcnian, from *heorcian (to hark) infixed with -n-,[2] from Proto-West Germanic *hauʀijan, from Proto-Germanic *hauzijaną (to hear), from Proto-Indo-European *h₂ḱh₂owsyéti (to be sharp-eared, hear well), from *h₂eḱ- (sharp) + *h₂ṓws (ear) + *-yéti (denominative suffix). The spelling of the English word was probably influenced by hear,[2] and can be analysed as hark +‎ -en.



hearken (third-person singular simple present hearkens, present participle hearkening, simple past and past participle hearkened)

  1. (transitive, archaic except poetic) To hear (something) with attention; to have regard to (something).
    • 1596, Edmund Spenser, “Book IV, Canto VII”, in The Faerie Queene. [], part II (books IV–VI), London: [] [Richard Field] for William Ponsonby, →OCLC, stanza 33, page 103:
      Thenceforth ſhe paſt into his dreadfull den, / VVhere nought but darkeſome drerineſſe ſhe found, / Ne creature ſaw, but hearkned now and then / Some little whiſpering, and ſoft groaning ſound.
    • 1610–1611 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Tempest”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act I, scene ii], page 3, column 1:
      This King of Naples being an Enemy / To me inueterate, hearkens my Brothers ſuit, / Which was, That he in lieu o' th' premiſes, / Of homage, and I know not how much Tribute, / Should preſently extirpate me and mine / Out of the Dukedome, and confer faire Milane / With all the Honors, on my brother: []
    • 1785, “Hunting Songs and Cantatas”, in The Humming Bird: Or, A Compleat Collection of the Most Esteemed Songs. [], 3rd edition, Canterbury, Kent: Printed and sold by Simmons and Kirkby; London: J[oseph] Johnson, [], →OCLC, number 50, page 17, column 2:
      With pleaſure he hearkens the heart-ſoothing chear / Shakes Morpheus and ſlumber away; / While joyful he ſtarts, and with ſpeed doth appear / The foremoſt to welcome the day.
    • 1832 December (indicated as 1833), Alfred Tennyson, “New Year’s Eve”, in Poems, London: Edward Moxon, [], →OCLC, stanza X, page 99:
      Tho' I cannot speak a word, I shall hearken what ye say, / And be often—often with ye when ye think I'm faraway.
    • 1869 December 18, “A Storm”, in William, Robert Chambers, editors, Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art, number 312 (Fourth Series), London, Edinburgh: W. & R. Chambers, →OCLC, page 816, column 2:
      And now a sweet bird calls its scattered mates, / And gaily hearkens the unburdened heart.
    • 1870, William Morris, “January”, in The Earthly Paradise: A Poem, part IV, London: F[rederick] S[tartridge] Ellis, [], →OCLC, page 88:
      Up in the spire / The watcher set high o'er the half-hid town / Hearkens the sound of chiming bells fall down / Below him: []
  2. (intransitive) To listen; to attend or give heed to what is uttered; to hear with attention, compliance, or obedience.
    • 1560, [William Whittingham et al., transl.], The Bible and Holy Scriptures Conteyned in the Olde and Newe Testament. [] (the Geneva Bible), Geneva: [] Rouland Hall, →OCLC, Ecclesiasticus XXIIII:25, folio 433, verso:
      Who ſo hearkeneth vnto me, ſhal not come to confuſion, & they that worke by me, ſhal not offende; [they that make me to be knowen, ſhal haue euerlaſting life.]
    • 1593, [William Shakespeare], Venus and Adonis, London: [] Richard Field, [], →OCLC; Shakespeare’s Venus & Adonis: [], 4th edition, London: J[oseph] M[alaby] Dent and Co. [], 1896, →OCLC, verse 145, page 51, lines 868–870:
      She hearkens for his hounds and for his horn: / Anon she hears them chant it lustily, / And all in haste she coasteth to the cry.
      The spelling has been modernized.
    • 1611, The Holy Bible, [] (King James Version), London: [] Robert Barker, [], →OCLC, Genesis 3:17, column 1:
      And vnto Adam he [God] ſaid, Becauſe thou hast hearkened vnto the voice of thy wife [Eve], and haſt eaten of the tree, of which I commaunded thee, ſaying, Thou ſhalt not eate of it: curſed is the ground for thy ſake: in ſorow ſhalt thou eate of it all the dayes of thy life.
    • 1611, The Holy Bible, [] (King James Version), London: [] Robert Barker, [], →OCLC, Deuteronomy 4:1, column 1:
      Nowe therefore hearken, O Iſrael, vnto the Statutes, and vnto the Judgments which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may liue, and goe in and poſſeſſe the lande, which the Lord God of your fathers giueth you.
    • 1697, Virgil, “The Fourth Book of the Georgics”, in John Dryden, transl., The Works of Virgil: Containing His Pastorals, Georgics, and Æneis. [], London: [] Jacob Tonson, [], →OCLC, page 143, lines 690–693:
      Ev'n from the depths of Hell the Damn'd advance, / Th' Infernal Manſions nodding ſeem to dance; / The gaping three-mouth'd Dog forgets to ſnarl, / The Furies harken, and their Snakes uncurl.
    • 1750 November, “Maxims for the Conduct of Life”, in The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure: [], volume VII, number XLVIII, London: Published [] by John Hinton, [], →OCLC, page 224, column 1:
      When ſhe [voluptuousness] ſpreadeth her delicacies on the table, when her wine ſparkleth in the cup, when ſhe ſmileth upon thee, and perſuadeth thee to be joyful and happy; then is the hour of danger, and let reaſon ſtand firmly on her guard: for, if thou hearkeneſt unto the words of her adverſary, thou art deceived and betrayed.
    • 1827, [James Fenimore Cooper], chapter III, in The Prairie; a Tale. [], volume I, Philadelphia, Pa.: Carey, Lea & Carey [], →OCLC, page 48:
      If the advice of an old man is, then, worth hearkening to, children, you will quickly, go different ways to your places of shelter and safety.
    • 1832 December (indicated as 1833), Alfred Tennyson, “Œnone”, in Poems, London: Edward Moxon, [], →OCLC, stanza II, page 52:
      O mother Ida, manyfountained Ida, / Dear mother Ida, hearken ere I die.
    • 1843 January, Edgar A[llan] Poe, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, in J[ames] Russell Lowell, R[obert] Carter, editors, The Pioneer. A Literary and Critical Magazine, volume I, number I, Boston, Mass.: Leland and Whiting, [], →OCLC, page 29, column 1:
      How, then, am I mad? Harken! and observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story.
    • 1844, [Helen Taylor], “Monday”, in The Child’s Book of Homilies. [], London: Edwards and Hughes, []; Hatchard and Son, [], →OCLC, part II (Homilies for the Week), page 70:
      Thou who art of all things Lord, / Well I know, in Galilee, / Hearkenedst to Thy mother's word, / Teach me such a child to be.
    • 1881–1882, Robert Louis Stevenson, “The Sea Chest”, in Treasure Island, London, Paris: Cassell & Company, published 14 November 1883, →OCLC, part I (The Old Buccaneer), page 29:
      We were not many minutes on the road, though we sometimes stopped to lay hold of each other and hearken. But there was no unusual sound—nothing but the low wash of the ripple and the croaking of the inmates of the wood.
    • 1942, William Faulkner, “The Bear”, in Go Down, Moses, New York, N.Y.: Random House, →OCLC, section 5, page 326:
      [T]he mother who had shaped him if any had toward the man he almost was, [] whom he had revered and harkened to and loved and lost and grieved: []
    • 1999, Stanley Fish, “Fraught with Death”, in The Trouble with Principle, Cambridge, Mass., London: Harvard University Press, →ISBN, page 93:
      You do not, in short, speak in order to encourage others to speak freely but in order to discourage others from disseminating or hearkening to error. You do not seek to enfranchise the community but to bind it to the truths you take to be salutary.
  3. (intransitive, obsolete) To enquire; to seek information.

Usage notes[edit]

The form hearken is much more common in Britain, while harken (which is older and thought by some to be more regularly formed from hark) is more common in the United States.[2]


Alternative forms[edit]

Derived terms[edit]



  1. ^ herkenen, v.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 hearken | harken, n.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1898; “hearken, v.”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.

Further reading[edit]