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To the Virgins to Make Much of Time

Read and annotate the poem below. Then write a response to each of the five questions that follow. (Feel free to engage with your peers' responses.)


To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old Time is still a-flying;

And this same flower that smiles today

Tomorrow will be dying.

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.

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.

Then be not coy, but use your time,

And, while ye may, go marry:

For having lost but once your prime,

You may forever tarry.

Robert Herrick (1591 – 1674)

  1. The first two stanzas might be interpreted literally if the third and fourth stanzas did not force us to interpret them symbolically. What do the “rosebuds” symbolize (stanza 1)? What does the course of a day symbolize (stanza 2)? Does the poet narrow the meaning of the rosebud symbol in the last stanza or merely name one of its specific meanings?

  1. How does the title help us interpret the meaning of the symbol? Why is “virgins” a more meaningful word than, for example, maidens?

  1. Why is such haste necessary in gathering the rosebuds? True, the blossoms die quickly, but they are replaced by others. Who really is dying?

  1. What are “the worse, and worst” times (11)? Why?

  1. Why is the wording of the poem better than these possible alternatives: blooms for “smiles” (3); course for “race” (7); used for “spent” (11); spend for “use” (13)?

DMU Timestamp: August 14, 2020 20:51

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