Is the poem, "To Daffodils," by Robert Herrick, a Cavalier poem? Explain.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Robert Herrick's poem entitled, "To Daffodils," is a Cavalier poem. Cavalier poems are known for their "carpe diem" (seize the day) theme: making the most of the time we have because it flies by so quickly.

In "To Daffodils," the speaker is praising the beautiful flowers, but also speaking as to how quickly they fade. Herrick's description of the life of daffodils, in his poem, parallels the brief life of man.

The first stanza relates the sadness that comes with the swift passage of the daffodils of spring: they arrive in all their glory, but seem to die too soon and return to the earth. The speaker talks of the time of day, which is also symbolic of the stages of life. He says:

As yet the early-rising sun
Has not attain'd his noon.
Stay, stay,
Until the hasting day
Has run
But to the even-song...

"Early-rising sun" is youth; noon is middle age. The speaker finishes the stanza by saying that when "we" have prayed with the daffodils, "we will go with you along."

The second stanza provides the "extended metaphor" to the descriptions provided in the first stanza. The speaker verbalizes the swiftness of man's time on the earth:

We have short time to stay, as you,
We have as short a spring;
As quick a growth to meet decay,
As you, or anything.
We die
As your hours do, and dry
Away...

The speaker points out that, like the daffodils, humans have a short spring (youth); and like dead plants, we decay as quickly as plants, to rejoin the soil. Plants, like people, lose the hours to eventual death—just like the daffodils.

Finally, the speaker points out with a simile, that human life is like a summer rain or the "pearls" of dew: in the blink of an eye, both are gone—forever.

In summary:

The over-riding message of Herrick’s work is that life is short, the world is beautiful, love is splendid, and we must use the short time we have to make the most of it.

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