Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 453

“Go, Lovely Rose” has preserved Waller’s reputation as a poet, in part, because of its simplicity of language. The poem marks a movement away from the seriousness of metaphysical poetry to a form reflecting less weighty subjects. The rose, personified as a creature able to deliver speeches and die on command, must urge the woman—beautiful but fragile, tangible but tenuous—to “Suffer herself to be desired/ And not blush so to be admired.” Waller employs ambiguity in the word “suffer.” The young woman must allow herself to be admired, but the word “suffer” also implies that she might feel distress at such a request. The speaker’s petition also poses a paradox. The woman who so readily blushes has cheeks the color of roses, but to cease blushing and accept the man’s advances readily, as the speaker suggests in line 15, would take away the blush and would make her pale and thus, appear less like the rose.

In the tradition of Cavalier poets, Waller addresses his mistress in a forthright manner. She is not portrayed as an unattainable, chaste goddess, but rather a maiden who must be confronted with her hesitation and chastised for her shyness. Such poetry celebrates the minor pleasures of life and is often more about the speaker than the lady who receives the address. Thus, Waller’s gentleman is frank in commanding the rose to die so that his lady may “read” her own fate: “Then die, that she/ The common fate of all things rare/ May read in thee.” His urgency in bidding her to “come forth” and permitting herself “to be admired” hints that his regard is fleeting and superficial.

The poem’s carpe diem theme encourages the young maid to accept the speaker’s advances while there is still time. However, Waller’s subtle satire also raises questions about love and beauty. The speaker does not assert, as does William Shakespeare in “Sonnet 116,” that love does not alter, or that love is not “Time’s fool.” In fact, the lover in “Go, Lovely Rose” implies that time is beauty’s enemy. Death is the “common fate of all things rare.” The lover of “Go, Lovely Rose” is impatient. Perhaps his interest in the young woman will be as short-lived as her beauty or as her youth. The poem ends as it began, with an appeal to one who is “sweet and fair.” The woman must accept his advances while she can. Time is short, as he reiterates in the closing couplet: “How small a part of time they share/ That are so wondrous sweet and fair.” The poem is a call to action, since his interest and her beauty may both be short-lived.

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