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To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

by Robert Herrick

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What is the theme of Robert Herrick's poem "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time"?

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The theme of "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time," is that young women should make the best of their beauty and passion while they are young because once they are past their prime, no one is going to want them.

In the first stanza, the speaker addresses "virgins" directly, imploring them to entertain many suitors in their youth because their beauty will inevitably fade as time goes on.  He uses "rose-buds" as a metaphor for young lovers and a "flower" as a metaphor for the virgin herself.  Likewise, flowers are often associated with spring, and spring with youth.

In the second stanza, the metaphor of the day for a human life (sunrise = birth, noon = peak or prime, sunset = death) conveys the idea that, as the sun rises higher toward the apex of its path, we reach our prime and grow that much closer to our deaths.

In the third stanza, the speaker says, "That age is best which is the first, / When youth and blood are warmer."  In other words, youth is the best age because our blood is warm then: a way of saying that we are most passionate when we are young (think of the term "hot-blooded" to signify lustiness).

In the fourth and final stanza, he advises young women not to be standoffish but to use their time wisely and "go marry" (in essence, catch a husband now; this is also the thing that will make them "merry" -- a pun because they sound the same and both meanings work), because once they are past the age where they are most beautiful, there's a good chance that no one will want them.

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What is the tone of Robert Herrick's poem,"To Virgins, to Make Much of Time"?

This poem is a famous example of a type of literature referred to as "carpe diem" literature. This is a Latin phrase meaning "seize the day." Thus, in this poem, the speaker addresses all "virgins" or young women and urges them to marry now rather than wait until it is too late and they have lost their "prime." Note how the first stanza builds up this impression through the use of imagery:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old Time is still a-flying;

And this same flower that smiles today,

Tomorrow will be dying.

In an implied metaphor, the "virgins" or young women are compared to the "flower that smiles today" but might have withered by tomorrow. Thus when we think about the tone of this poem we can characterise it as one of persuasive urgency - the speaker is really trying to encourage his audience not to "tarry" because if they do it might be too late.

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Explain the poem "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" by Robert Herrick. 

Herrick's poem is part of a genre called "carpe diem," which means "seize the day." In the poem, the speaker mounts a forceful argument to his beloved to enjoy their love affair to the fullest in the here and now. The two should make love while they can, because they are not getting any younger—and youth is the best part of life.

Herrick's speaker supports his argument by comparing their youth to the blossoming of rosebuds. Everyone knows that rosebuds bloom and fade quickly, so you have to gather them when you can. Likewise, human beauty and vitality quickly fade: it is no good to want to be lovers when both of you are old and infirm.

In a second comparison, the speaker notes that the sun travels quickly across the sky: as we make the most of daylight, so we should make the most of youth.

Finally, the beloved should not be shy ("coy") now, because she will have plenty of time for that once she is old and undesirable.

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Explain the poem "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" by Robert Herrick. 

Make the most of youth—this is the message in Robert Herrick's poem, "To the Virgins to make much of Time." Virginity applies to innocence and youth time in the beginning of adulthood when one is beautiful and full of life.  The poem is unusual because it was written in the early seventeenth century.  People were promiscuous; however, they did not talk about it. 

The poem is first person point of view.  The poet uses an imperative tone.  Exclaiming to the innocent youth to grab hold of life and save nothing back.

Written in four quatrains, each stanza has four lines. The rhyme scheme follows the pattern of ABAB with every other line rhyming.   

Every day that a person lives, he moves toward old age.  This gift of virginity can only be given once.  To the poet, this gift should only go to the husband, or if one thinks of men as virginal as well, then it applies to the youth men and their wives.  

1st stanza

The  poem begins by telling the young innocents to grab onto life.  The gathering of the rosebuds is a metaphor for living life to its fullest.  The rosebud itself is a symbol of youth and virginity.  As the rose opens and blooms, it begins to die.  The same is true of man. The beautiful youth that smiles today will be aging tomorrow.

2nd stanza

The personification of the sun shows the passing of time.  Time passes so quickly. The day starts in the east and before one realizes it, the day has run its course.  The sun like the rosebud marks the progress of a human being as he moves toward his fate.   

3rd stanza

The virginal  time in life represents the warm blooded time of life.

That age is best which is the first,

When youth and blood are warmer; 

but being spent, the worse, and worst

Times still succeed the former. 

A young woman or man is desirable and passionate.  This is the best time of life.  The speaker implores the youth to indulge himself in life. It is a waste of time to wait to give into the pleasures of love and life.

4th stanza

The final stanza of the poem urges the virgins, who represent all those who are young and inexperienced, to pursue love. This is not the time to be timid. Go out and find a husband or wife. There is no reason to wait to marry.  A person is only young once. 

Deceptively, some have thought that the poem encourages risqué behavior.  In truth, this is a poem that promotes marriage and marrying young. The poem stresses the idea of marriage while love and flesh are still young, or one may suffer in later years alone and loveless.

The phrase carpe diem applies to the theme of the poem.  Seize the time of life when a person is young, engaging, and lusty, and go for it.  Find the true love of life and give everything a person has to him/her. Go…”gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” The speaker argues that, of all the “ages” or stages through which a man’s life passes, the one in which the virgins find themselves now is the “best.” 

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How could Robert Herrick's poem "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" be paraphrased and what is it saying?

It is also important to note that the final stanza calls for the virgins to not only live life, but to MARRY:

"Then be not coy, but use your time; / And while ye may goe marry"

In the early modern period, when this poem was written, marriage was considered of utmost importance and a real duty. Marriages were important for the purpose of procreation, and Herrick (though he himself never married) was warning young people against the sin of not following God's commandment to be fruitful.

Unlike some other Carpe Diem poems of the time, such as Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress," to which this poem is often compared, Herrick's poem does not simply encourage a sexual encounter, but incorporates a moral element. He wants the virgins to follow the natural order sanctioned by God--first marriage--then sex and children.

For more information about this poem and Marvell's poem see the links below:

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How could Robert Herrick's poem "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" be paraphrased and what is it saying?

"To the Virgins, to make much of Time" concerns much what the title implies - youth (not just females) who have not yet lived life, start living now as your time is passing you by! Literally, this poem explores the idea of Carpe Diem, Seize the Day.Since you will not always have your youth, take advantage of it now before you are old and regret not living. In stanza one,the rosebuds (1) are a metaphor for youth yet unlived and just as flowers (3), we will also die, life is so fleeting. Stanza two explores the same motif: Youth becomes the sun, and as days fly by, we will age, thus the setting sun. Stanza three extols youth as the age that is the best as old age will hold little joy. The allusion to a coy girl is used in stanza four: Don't be coy (shy), take advantage of youth (use your time), for once you have lost youth, you will no longer be in your prime. Stanza Four sums up the entire poem: Take time, enjoy your youth, and live, because once youth (life) is gone, it can never be recaptured.

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