Explain the poem "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" by Robert Herrick. 

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Make the most of youth—this is the message in Robert Herrick's poem, "To the Virgins to make much of Time." Virginity applies to innocence and youth time in the beginning of adulthood when one is beautiful and full of life.  The poem is unusual because it was written in the early seventeenth century.  People were promiscuous; however, they did not talk about it. 

The poem is first person point of view.  The poet uses an imperative tone.  Exclaiming to the innocent youth to grab hold of life and save nothing back.

Written in four quatrains, each stanza has four lines. The rhyme scheme follows the pattern of ABAB with every other line rhyming.   

Every day that a person lives, he moves toward old age.  This gift of virginity can only be given once.  To the poet, this gift should only go to the husband, or if one thinks of men as virginal as well, then it applies to the youth men and their wives.  

1st stanza

The  poem begins by telling the young innocents to grab onto life.  The gathering of the rosebuds is a metaphor for living life to its fullest.  The rosebud itself is a symbol of youth and virginity.  As the rose opens and blooms, it begins to die.  The same is true of man. The beautiful youth that smiles today will be aging tomorrow.

2nd stanza

The personification of the sun shows the passing of time.  Time passes so quickly. The day starts in the east and before one realizes it, the day has run its course.  The sun like the rosebud marks the progress of a human being as he moves toward his fate.   

3rd stanza

The virginal  time in life represents the warm blooded time of life.

That age is best which is the first,

When youth and blood are warmer; 

but being spent, the worse, and worst

Times still succeed the former. 

A young woman or man is desirable and passionate.  This is the best time of life.  The speaker implores the youth to indulge himself in life. It is a waste of time to wait to give into the pleasures of love and life.

4th stanza

The final stanza of the poem urges the virgins, who represent all those who are young and inexperienced, to pursue love. This is not the time to be timid. Go out and find a husband or wife. There is no reason to wait to marry.  A person is only young once. 

Deceptively, some have thought that the poem encourages risqué behavior.  In truth, this is a poem that promotes marriage and marrying young. The poem stresses the idea of marriage while love and flesh are still young, or one may suffer in later years alone and loveless.

The phrase carpe diem applies to the theme of the poem.  Seize the time of life when a person is young, engaging, and lusty, and go for it.  Find the true love of life and give everything a person has to him/her. Go…”gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” The speaker argues that, of all the “ages” or stages through which a man’s life passes, the one in which the virgins find themselves now is the “best.” 

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