The Theme of Carpe Diem in Robert Herrick's To the Virgins to Make Much of Time
Robert Herrick's poem, "To the Virgins to Make Much of Time," focuses on the idea of carpe diem. More specifically, in this poem the idea of marriage while love and flesh are still young should be heeded or one may suffer in their later years alone and loveless. Herrick suggests that this gift of virginity might be a great waste if not given while it is still desirable. Virginity is a gift for the simple reason that it can only be given once to the taker of the prize, which he believes should be the husband. Therefore, he says to go out and find husbands, for youth is not perpetual and will eventually succumb to old age and loneliness. Through Herrick's use of colorful imagery and personification, the reader detects a sense of urgency and duty for the virgins to go forth and marry while time is still at hand and love is bountiful, thus creating the overall idea of carpe diem.
The first stanza of the poem opens to the personification of the flowers as the virgins:
Gather ye Rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a flying:
And this same flower that smiles today,
To morrow will be dying. (ll. 1-4)
The rosebuds correspond to the virgins in that they are beautiful and delicate, yet they have not reached their full potential and maturity by becoming full bloomed roses. Time is also personified as, "Old Time," which suggests a genial greybeard more than a grim reaper (Rollin 83). Time is still "a flying" suggests a comical image more than ominous but still one of urgency (Rollin 83). The image of the smiling flower indicates innocence and freshness but it only "smiles today, To morrow [it] will be dying." A grim and abrupt end comes to the smiling flower as so will to the virgins if they do not marry in their youth.
The atmosphere of the second stanza further intensifies the notion that time is surely running out for our indecisive virgins. As the "glorious Lamp of Heaven," the sun, is rising and is reaching it's peak. The sun is pictured as a marathon runner in line 7 with, "The sooner will his Race be run." And as with all good things in life there must be an end. The sun will then set and the youthfulness of the virgins will fade. The choice of words that Herrick uses in the second stanza such as "getting," "sooner," and "neerer" create a mood of urgency which also leads to a degree of anxiety. Time is moving on in every aspect of...