Poem – Robert Herrick, “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time”

To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time

Gather ye rose-buds while ye may:
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles to-day,Waterhouse-gather ye rosebuds-1909
To-morrow 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 for ever tarry.

Robert Herrick
(1591 –1674)

Ok, I freely admit that this is mainly an excuse to put up another PreRaph painting. But it just struck me, after yesterday’s post, how much truth there is in this poem (adjusted for a more modern worldview, naturally) for us in Canterbury. Because the one good thing that has come from our ongoing disasters sn that people say ‘I love you’ more. Some of that is ebbing away now, as months go by and the business of living takes over again. Ironic really: the business of living coming between us and our awareness of the act of living.

Yvoire cadran solaire

Apparently the opening line is an echo of the end of a poem called variously “De Rosis Nascentibus” or sometimes “Idyllium de Rosis”, usually attributed to Virgil. And actually I quite like the original line – ‘collige, virgo, rosas’, which translates to ‘gather, girl, the roses’. And yes, I realise that this poem is really just an extended “Come on, have sex with me! Pleeeeeeease!” But there is a core of truth that does move beyond the immediate purpose of the poem. (It would be interesting to know if this poem actually worked …) Carpe diem indeed. (You already know how much impact Dead Poets Society had on me.)

As I’m now teaching my free Reading for Writing class, I’ve got one eye semi-permanently looking for poems to use, and the old ‘modernise an old poem’ exercise is such a good one. But I think I might keep this one for myself …

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