To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time Summary
by Robert Herrick

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time book cover
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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.

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Summary

(Poetry for Students)

Lines 1–4
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.

Lines 5–8
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.

Lines 9–12
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...

(The entire section is 511 words.)