The Poem (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” is a short lyric poem that at first reading seems to be simply a call to young women to enjoy life, particularly its physical pleasures, while they are young.
Robert Herrick is considered one of the circle of poets (sometimes called the “sons of Ben”) that gathered around poet and playwright Ben Jonson in London in the early seventeenth century. Herrick became a country pastor in 1629, but when upon the advent of the English Civil War he remained loyal to his king, he was ousted from his post by the Puritans, who closed the theaters and taverns—and eventually executed the king. This political exile deprived Herrick of his living and cut him off from the possibility of returning to London. It is hard to tell when Herrick poems such as “Delight in Disorder,” “Upon Julia’s Clothes,” and this one were actually written, but since they were published together in 1648, only a year after Herrick was removed from his post, they may constitute a kind of challenge to Puritan strictures.
The title of the poem begins the address to the virgins. To “make much of time” is both to make something happen while time is passing and to pay attention to its passage. In the first stanza, one use to be made of time is to collect flowers before they are yet in full bloom, because time passes so quickly that soon new flowers will be withered on the vine.
The idea of the passage of time is given...
(The entire section is 536 words.)
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Forms and Devices (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
The four stanzas of this poem are quatrains (each has four lines). These are “hymn” or “common” stanzas, since they take the form most often found in traditional hymns: a metrical pattern of four iambic feet in the first and third lines and three in the second and fourth lines, and the regular rhyme scheme of abab. It is likely that it was intentional on Herrick’s part to adapt a church form to his very secular theme.
The stanzaic form is given a sense of lushness and superfluity by the hypermetrical syllable at the end of each second and fourth line. The final syllable is not part of the three feet of the line, but seems to pack it with sound; it is also probably not an accident that these syllables have in each case what is called a “feminine” rhyme.
The iambic pentameter is nearly perfect, although the strength of the stressed syllables varies enough for the poem not to be monotonous. Two variations are worth noting. Both syllables of “gather,” the first word of line one and the first foot of the metrical pattern, have nearly the same stress value, which establishes a sense of the imperative from the outset. The fifth line contains two implied elisions: “glorious” metrically must be “glor’ous” and “heaven,” “heav’n.” Leaving extra syllables that require contraction in the line generates the sense that the sun’s passage is both unusually lengthy and unaccountably shortened.
(The entire section is 492 words.)