When we examine Robert Herrick’s “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time” and Alfred Tennyson’s “Lady of Shalott” we see some similarities. Herrick’s poem, as addressed “to the virgins”, can be read as a warning to young women to marry while they are young, but his message to all readers is that we live our lives to the fullest, enjoy our youth and find love while we can. Tennyson’s poem exemplifies this idea: The Lady of Shalott who sits in her tower isolated from the world, alone, decides to leave her tower to follow the man she loves—no matter the cost. Herrick’s “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time” may be more blatant in its message but, when we examine the text, we see that Tennyson’s “Lady of Shalott” shares the theme that life is too short to live and die alone, and we should not wait to find love.
Robert Herrick’s “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time” is a warning to us that life is short and youth will not last forever. The poem’s title is addressed to the “virgins” or the inexperienced. While this could be read in the sexual context of the word, we could interpret it that Herrick is speaking to all readers who have not fully experienced life and love in general. It begins: “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,/ Old Time is still a-flying” (1-2). The use of the word “rosebud” gives the imagery of a flower that has not been exposed or opened to the world. It also evokes the feeling of youth, as a rosebud has not fully bloomed. “Old Time” is capitalized, making it an actual entity that will not last forever, as it is “old.” In the second stanza, Herrick further emphasizes the urgency to live life to the fullest before it ends:
The Glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting. (4-8)
The sun is personified as he uses the word “he” in reference to it. The sun is now a character in the poem and a metaphor for our lives. The setting sun is life ending. We feel the urgency as he uses the word “race” to emphasize the point that the sun will not slow down and wait for us. Life is in a hurry to end and we cannot stop it. Herrick’s poem suggests that we will enjoy our lives the most while we are in our youth, as the third stanza says “The age is best which is the first,/ When youth and blood are warmer” (9-10). Every day we are getting older, and we must enjoy it now while we are young.
In the last stanza, Herrick further adds that we should boldly live our lives as he says, “Then be not coy, but use your time” (13). The idea that we “be not coy” or shy evokes the idea that we should not stand idly by and miss opportunities, but rather make of our lives what we want them to be. Herrick suggests the best way to do this is to find love and get married while we are young, as the last two lines read, “And while ye may, go marry;/ For having lost but once your prime, / You may forever tarry” (14-16). When we are no longer in our “prime” and youthful, marriage will ensure that...