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To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

by Robert Herrick
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How is symbolism used in "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time"?

In "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time," the speaker encourages his audience, young female virgins, to not be "coy" and to gather "rose-buds" while they are able. Literally, this means that they can enjoy the beauties of spring and their own youthfulness. Figuratively, this means that they should not stop at flirtation but should go ahead and gather lovers while they are still young and beautiful. Time runs out on both spring and youth.

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A symbol is something that has both literal and figurative meaning. In the first line of the poem, the speaker advises his audience to "Gather ye rose-buds while ye may," a line that seems to convey both kinds of meaning.

First, on a literal level, the speaker is saying to enjoy the beautiful weather of spring; there are new flowers blooming, and those flowers will die soon enough, so we ought to seize the day. However, on a figurative level, the speaker seems to be suggesting that his audience enjoy their youth and make the most of their vitality and beauty, collecting lovers now before too much time passes and they grow too old to do so. After all, "Time is still a-flying!" Therefore, the rose-buds are a symbol of romantic conquests, of lovers, as even the title suggests that the intended audience is composed of virgins.

In the final stanza, the speaker advises these virgins not to be "coy" or teasingly flirtatious or standoffish but, rather, to take advantage of their "warm" blood, the result of the "best" age (youth, of course), because, as time passes, "worse" and "worst / Times" eventually come to "succeed the former." It is possible that the speaker is addressing one particular young maiden with whom he would like to sleep with, or perhaps he is just admonishing all young maidens not to squander their youth and beauty and to collect some rose-buds and lovers while they still can.

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