To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time Summary
"To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" is a carpe diem poem by Robert Herrick in which the speaker urges virgins to seize the day by taking advantage of their youth. Like roses, their beauty is fleeting, and they should capitalize on it while they can.
The poem opens by urging virgins to "gather ye rosebuds while ye may."
The speaker tells virgins that their youth is temporary, and they should marry soon.
The speaker warns virgins that time will march on whether they want it to or not, so they might as well enjoy their youth.
In the opening stanza, the poet articulates the carpe diem tenet that urges one to “Seize the Day.” The gathering of roses is a metaphor for living life to the fullest. The image of roses suggests a number of things: roses symbolize sensuality and the fulfillment of earthly pleasures; as vegetation, they are tied to the cycles of nature and represent change and the transience of life. Like the “virgins,” the roses are buds, fresh, youthful and brimming with life; youth, like life, however, is fleeting. Marked by brevity, life is such that one day one experiences joy, as suggested by the smiling flower, and the next day death. The poet underscores the ephemeral quality of human life. Like the rose, the virgins whom the speaker addresses, and beyond them the reader of the text, are destined to follow the same fate as the rose.
Here the poet expands on the image of fleeting time and the brevity of life. The movement of the sun in the sky underscores the passing of time as the sun has functioned quite literally as a time- piece since ancient times (think of a sundial). Traditionally, the sun is an image of warmth, light and vitality: it is a life-giving force, nurturing growth in nature. However, the setting of the sun is a foreboding image that lends dark undertones to the poem: it is a traditional symbol of death. Like the rose, the personified sun and his progress across the sky stand as a metaphor for humankind and its ultimate fate.
In the third stanza, the speaker of the poem offers sage wisdom, which appears to have been acquired through life experience, to the naive virgins. Noting that youth, the time when one’s blood is “warm” and desires and passions are readily stirred, is the “best” time of one’s life, evokes the notion of carpe diem, and implies that one should celebrate this moment in life by indulging in it. However, in the final two lines of the stanza, the speaker introduces an unusually ironic and decidedly unromantic twist to the notion of pursuing love by suggesting that love is not a means by which one can escape death. Rather, the realist suggests that love must be pursued as it plays a role in life. It does not deter death, as suggested in lines eleven and twelve, but it does occupy a particular and significant place in one’s life journey whose ultimate end is death.
The final stanza of the poem unites the natural cycles of life and death with the rites and ceremonies of Christian worship, thereby introducing a unique element to the carpe diem poem. Here the speaker urges the virgins, who represent all those who are young and inexperienced, to pursue love and the “natural” union of matrimony that ensues within the Christian world. By urging marriage, the speaker introduces a religious and moral element to the pursuit of pleasure and the immediate gratification of one’s desires that the tenet of carpe diem suggests.