What is the theme of the poem "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time," by Robert Herrick?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The theme of "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time," is that young women should make the best of their beauty and passion while they are young because once they are past their prime, no one is going to want them.

In the first stanza, the speaker addresses "virgins" directly, imploring them to entertain many suitors in their youth because their beauty will inevitably fade as time goes on.  He uses "rose-buds" as a metaphor for young lovers and a "flower" as a metaphor for the virgin herself.  Likewise, flowers are often associated with spring, and spring with youth.

In the second stanza, the metaphor of the day for a human life (sunrise = birth, noon = peak or prime, sunset = death) conveys the idea that, as the sun rises higher toward the apex of its path, we reach our prime and grow that much closer to our deaths.

In the third stanza, the speaker says, "That age is best which is the first, / When youth and blood are warmer."  In other words, youth is the best age because our blood is warm then: a way of saying that we are most passionate when we are young (think of the term "hot-blooded" to signify lustiness).

In the fourth and final stanza, he advises young women not to be standoffish but to use their time wisely and "go marry" (in essence, catch a husband now; this is also the thing that will make them "merry" -- a pun because they sound the same and both meanings work), because once they are past the age where they are most beautiful, there's a good chance that no one will want them.

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To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

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