British Literature Poetry

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The carpe diem theme has been a perennial favorite of all poets of passion, at least since the time of Horace. The seventeenth century poets Robert Herrick and Andrew Marvell have explored this theme in many of their poems with exceptional acuteness and wit.


Herrick's poem "To The Virgins, To Make Much of Time" is rather short, consisting of four stanzas of four lines each. The very first line of the first stanza draws attention to the transience of youth and beauty. Herrick exhorts the virgins to gather rose-buds "while ye may," for rosebuds do not last too long. The smiling flower of today will, without any doubt, fade away and die tomorrow. Herrick does not have to spell out the fact that the plight of the flower should alert the virgins to their own plight-their beauty, too, is almost as fleeting as that of the flower. The second stanza, in a similar vein, speaks of "the glorious lamp of heaven, the Sun." The higher the sun's position in the sky, the poet says, "the sooner his race will be run." In spite of all the power and glory of the risen sun, the inexorable law, which decides that he then should set, and die from the sky, will inevitably prove stronger than he. Again, Herrick does not need to remind the young virgins that this illustration is actually a metaphor to parallel the precarious state of their own youth and beauty.
The last two stanzas express the poet's meaning in a much more explicit manner. The 'first' age of life-youth-is no doubt the best, the poet says in the third stanza, but inevitably, worse times will succeed this first age, and the 'worst' will remain in store till the end. ...
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