How could Robert Herrick's poem "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" be paraphrased and what is it saying?
"To the Virgins, to make much of Time" concerns much what the title implies - youth (not just females) who have not yet lived life, start living now as your time is passing you by! Literally, this poem explores the idea of Carpe Diem, Seize the Day.Since you will not always have your youth, take advantage of it now before you are old and regret not living. In stanza one,the rosebuds (1) are a metaphor for youth yet unlived and just as flowers (3), we will also die, life is so fleeting. Stanza two explores the same motif: Youth becomes the sun, and as days fly by, we will age, thus the setting sun. Stanza three extols youth as the age that is the best as old age will hold little joy. The allusion to a coy girl is used in stanza four: Don't be coy (shy), take advantage of youth (use your time), for once you have lost youth, you will no longer be in your prime. Stanza Four sums up the entire poem: Take time, enjoy your youth, and live, because once youth (life) is gone, it can never be recaptured.
It is also important to note that the final stanza calls for the virgins to not only live life, but to MARRY:
"Then be not coy, but use your time; / And while ye may goe marry"
In the early modern period, when this poem was written, marriage was considered of utmost importance and a real duty. Marriages were important for the purpose of procreation, and Herrick (though he himself never married) was warning young people against the sin of not following God's commandment to be fruitful.
Unlike some other Carpe Diem poems of the time, such as Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress," to which this poem is often compared, Herrick's poem does not simply encourage a sexual encounter, but incorporates a moral element. He wants the virgins to follow the natural order sanctioned by God--first marriage--then sex and children.
For more information about this poem and Marvell's poem see the links below: