The Poem

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 555

“Go, Lovely Rose” is Edmund Waller’s most notable work. Waller was a prominent figure in seventeenth century England, and his poems circulated widely before they were published in a collected edition in 1645. “Go, Lovely Rose” conveys a carpe diem (“seize the day”) theme similar to that of two other famous poems of the same era: “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” (1648) by Robert Herrick and “To His Coy Mistress” (1681) by Andrew Marvell. The poem, which contains four stanzas, each with five lines, has symmetry in theme as well as form. The rose, addressed in the first line, serves as the unifying image, symbolizing the brevity of youth and beauty.

The poem opens with a conversation of sorts between the speaker and a rose. The rose must relay an urgent request to another: “Go, lovely rose,/ Tell her that wastes her time and me/How sweet and fair she seems to be.” The rose serves as a metaphor for an attractive woman. The speaker hopes that the lesson provided by the rose will prompt the maiden to yield to his advances. There is a sense of impatience in the speaker’s tone in line 2; she “wastes her time and me.” The term “waste” suggests not only that the girl is careless in squandering time but also that her delay has more serious connotations. The word might also imply exhaustion or devastation, reinforcing the vision of death expressed in the final stanza, when the rose must die. Moreover, the poet uses the pronoun “me” rather than the more predictable “mine” in line 2, suggesting that she is wasting him—not just his time—when she resists his advances.

In the second stanza, Waller reveals that the woman is shy; she’s “young/ And shuns to have her graces spied.” Yet, such charm will be wasted if it remains cloistered. The strongest admonition regarding the fragility of beauty arises in stanza 2, when the speaker likens her to a rose that blooms in an uninhabited desert and then dies “uncommended.” The image of a delicate rosebud withering in the heat of the desert sun reinforces the speaker’s directive that time is short. Therefore, the woman must not hide her beauty. If she waits too long, it may be too late, and like the rose in the desert, her “bloom” will be lost.

The focus of a central image continues in the third stanza, when the speaker amplifies the mission of the rose. It must bid the woman to “come forth.” She must abandon what the speaker hints is a false modesty and let herself be admired and desired without a blush, for “Small is the worth/ Of beauty from the light retired.” Like an unseen rose in the wilderness, her beauty is worthless if it remains hidden.

The object lesson concludes in the final stanza. The rose must die at the completion of its message so that the woman will see for herself “How small a part of time they share/ That are so wondrous sweet and fair.” The rose serves as both messenger and metaphor. The commands are given to “Go,” “Tell,” “Bid,” and “Then die.” The speaker finds the rose a most effective emissary. Its fragile petals and transient beauty may convince the reluctant woman in a way that an impatient suitor could not.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 414

Waller is known for his development of fluid metrical forms. The poet is credited with refining the heroic couplet (two rhymed lines, written in iambic pentameter). His sense of regular rhythms in his lyric poetry inspired later English poets such as John Dryden (1631-1700) and Alexander Pope (1688-1744). “Go, Lovely Rose” contains a regular rhythm and rhyme scheme. The lines are composed primarily of iambic feet—every other syllable is stressed. In the five-line stanzas, the first and third lines are short, only four syllables, while the remaining three lines each contain eight syllables. The short lines, especially those that begin the stanzas, contain commands and interrupt the regular iambic rhythm with the use of strongly accented syllables, as in the lines “Go, lovely rose” in the opening and the spondaic stress of “Then die” in the final stanza. In addition, the rhyme scheme reinforces the metrical structure of the poem. The short lines of each stanza rhyme, as do the longer lines (2, 4, and 5), forming an ababb rhyme scheme.

Waller employs apostrophe in addressing the rose in line 1 and commissioning the flower to deliver his message. Such figurative language provides the speaker with a sense of detachment. The woman whom the rose must visit has obviously been unmoved by the speaker’s previous advances. He must send a flower to do his bidding. Thus, it will not be the impatient suitor who will try to pry the reticent beauty from seclusion but rather a lovely rose. The beauty of the rose forms the central metaphor for the woman as well as the work. The speaker hopes his love interest will see herself in the rose, and in the same way, the reader comprehends the point of Waller’s verse: “Small is the worth/ Of beauty from the light retired.” Death is the “common fate of all things rare.” If the woman wastes her time, she will also waste her youth and opportunity.

The poem’s conceit exemplifies Waller’s tendency toward conventional metaphor. In contrast to John Donne’s poem “The Flea” (1633) in which the speaker tries to seduce a girl by comparing their lovemaking to a flea bite, Waller uses the more traditional image of a rose in an extended comparison to fleeting beauty and life. Waller’s contemporary Robert Herrick employs a similar image in his poem “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time.” Lines 3 and 4 echo Waller’s theme: “And this same flower that smiles today,/ Tomorrow will be dying.”

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