An Analysis of Robert Herrick’s To The Virgins, To Make Much of Time
In his poem To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time, Robert Herrick focused on the idea of carpe diem. He speaks to the young people saying that marriage is best while they are young and he also warned of the sufferings when they fail to do so. He thinks that virginity is a great gift that would be a great waste if not given while it is still desirable. He believes that this priceless gift of virginity can only be given once and the intended receiver must be the husband, the one whom the woman is going to marry. Thus, Herrick speaks to the women to go out and find husbands because people can’t stay young forever. Youth will pass and all that remains will be the undesirable features that old age can give, including unbearable loneliness. Herrick decorated the poem with colorful imagery and personification that every reader can easily detect a sense of urgency and duty as virgins to go forth, marry, and lose their virginity while it is still desirable else face the torment of being single, old age, and loneliness. His poem is perfectly encapsulated in the idea of carpe diem.
Herrick started the poem with a personification of the rosebuds as virgins. All through out the first stanza, he presented the women as flowers who “…smiles to-day, tomorrow will be dying.” Like the flowers, virginity is best at young age, while “…old time is still a-flying.” This is how Herrick views virginity. Oftentimes, flowers are compared to beauty and life but here, he used it to represent something else and that is virginity. In order to further emphasize this idea, he used comparison across time. He compared the present and the future—the youth and old age.
While the first stanza focused on the women, the second stanza is focused on the men. Herrick is speaking to the women about the men who, like them, are best at young age. Here, he compared the men to the sun, “the glorious lamp of heaven.” The idea is still the same though. He compared the present and the future—the youth and old age. There’s a deeper sense of responsibility here as compared to the first stanza.
In the third stanza, Herrick referred to young age which is best for both men and women as “…youth and blood are warmer.” Even in our personal experiences, we can say there’s nothing like young age. Most old people also relate how great their youth were as compared to their present state. Herrick again used comparison between youth and old age.
Finally, in the fourth stanza, Herrick suggests the action which must be taken by his intended audience: the women. He calls the women not to avoid people and social situations that will help them get a husband. They must use their time wisely as youth, like the sun, is getting higher and nearing to setting. Old age is fast approaching like the rosebuds that last for only a few days. Herrick is also suggesting that a woman must marry the man fit for her, or simply the man who will win her prize: virginity. “For having lost once your prime,” you will not be able to return it back. This stanza enforces the idea of carpe diem. The women are forced to do most out of their young age by finding the right man to marry.
The poem, To The Virgins, To Make Much of Time, is an oeuvre maestro by Robert Herrick. The idea is simple: seize the day while young. This is idea is encapsulated in the carpe diem ideology. The overall tone of the poem is less serious except for the last two stanzas where he was a bit serious and indulging. Herrick provided us an easy to read-easy to comprehend poem that talks about the greatness of youth and how, according to him, it must be spent, particularly the women.
Smith, P. (1995). 100 Best-Loved Poems. Chelmsford, MA: Courier Dover Publications, 12.