Critical Overview

(Poetry for Students)

“To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” has been recognized as an important poem that pushes beyond the boundary of the typical Cavalry lyric extolling “Carpe diem,” to reflect a unique interpretation of this notion, one that unites two seemingly contradictory belief systems, pagan and Christian. In his book Poetry and the Fountain of Light, H. R. Swardson, discussing another carpe diem poem by Herrick entitled “Corinna’s Going A-Maying,” argues that the poem does not offer mirth and the embracing of experience as a complete and utter licence to certain freedoms, as many more typical carpe diem poems do, nor does it suggest a strict and rigid Christian moral code. Rather, it mediates between the two. While avoiding a narrow understanding of Christianity, the poem draws on “the undeniable wisdom in the Christian order of life, including its action within some lawful boundary and recognizing considerations that are entirely foreign to the classical carpe diem statement.” This same observation may be applied to “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time.” In the end of the poem, the advice proffered is for the virgins to marry. Thus, Herrick is able to articulate the carpe diem attitude, encouraging individuals to “seize the day” with images that suggests passion and sexual vitality, while at the same time he draws this notion into “the Christian fold,” an important consideration for a clergyman living in a society deeply influenced by...

(The entire section is 465 words.)