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To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

by Robert Herrick

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Identify the stressed and unstressed syllables in the first two stanzas of "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time."

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This poem is perhaps one of the most famous expressions of the group of poems and texts that give rise to the Latin phrase "carpe diem," which literally means, "seize the day." Such works point out the brevity of human life and how, as a response, humans should not waste what little time they have but must make the most out of every second of their lives before it is too late.

When trying to identify the stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem, it is often useful to hold something that can be used as a drumstick, and to tap out the rhythm, tapping on the stressed syllables as the poem is read out. This can be a very active and visual way of identifying the stresses. In the following poem, the stressed syllables are identified with + and the unstressed syllables with -.

+    -   -     +     -      +     -    +

Gather ye Rose-buds while ye may,

-      +    -   +  -  + -
Old Time is still a flying:

-      +     -      +        -     +     -   +
And this same flower that smiles to day,

-       +   -   +  -   +  -
To morrow will be dying.

  -      +   -    +     -  +          -    +
The glorious Lamp of Heaven, the Sun,  

   -    +  -   +    -   +  -
The higher he’s a getting;

-       +   -   +   -   +     -   +
The sooner will his Race be run,

-       +   -   +    -  +    -

And neerer he’s to Setting.

It might be useful to read out this section of the poem, trying to tap out the stressed syllables, before looking at the rest of the poem and trying to scan the remaining syllables. Often detecting stressed and unstressed syllables is something that initially many students find very difficult, but comes with practice and effort, so don't be discouraged!

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