To the Virgins


It is a blessing to those who live today that over the year?s men and women have written poetry. In some poetry have been words reminding those who read it of the wonderful world in which they breathe and the necessity to live life. One of the writers of such poetry was Robert Herrick. Herrick used a lyrical style, unappreciated in his day, to write poetry that captured the very essence of carpe diem-to seize the day. Many of his poems were published in a volume entitled Hesperides. The most famous of those poems, is "To the Virgins, to make much of Time." By examining the work of Herrick-"To the Virgins" in particular, his life, and the times he lived in its possible to gain a greater appreciation and understanding of what he was writing about. Specifically the purpose is to examine how Herrick?s use of imagery with his words contributes to the lyricism of the poems. 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. "To the Virgins, to make much of Time" is a poem decidedly representative of the poetry of Herrick. In particular, notice the use of nouns heavy on imagery. Such as "rosebud", "a-flying", "lamp of heaven", and "setting sun." Each of these words and phrases bring to mind specific images. This poem was one of the 1,130 in the collection that Herrick had published as part of Hesperides in 1648. "To the Virgins" is representative of many of Herrick?s best poetry. It uses extensive imagery, especially with flowers. What it is most representative of it is how it is lyrical. There is ample evidence that Herrick intended many of his poems to be set to music including "To the Virgins". A. E. Gilmore wrote an essay on Herrick and the lyricism in his poetry. He points out, " ?To the Virgins? is written entirely in ballad form. One can attest to this virtue by singing ?To the Virgins? or ?To Anthea? to the tune of (Ben) Johnson?s ?Drinke to me, onely,? since that most popular of all seventeenth-century songs is also written in ballad measure.(68)" I sing of Times trans-shifting, and I write How Roses first came Red, and Lillies White. The first poem in Hesperides is "The Argument of his Book." This poem shows what Herrick is able to do with the imagery. With his words he is able to write about the idea of death. T.G.S. Cain points this out in the following quote taken from an essay he wrote dealing exclusively with the way Herrick continually brings the passage of time up in his poems. "Of all the subjects to which he draws attention in the introductory poem to Hesperides, "The Argument of his Book," none so dominates Herrick?s work as the one which he calls there ?Times trans-shifting.? It is a subject to which he returns again and again in his attempt to come to terms with the inevitability of human transience and death.(103)" Again both of the poems-"To the Virgins" and "The Argument of his Book"-contain two common characteristics. They both use visual imagery in a way that references the idea of carpe diem, and are written in a lyrical form. That is to say that both of his poems-and most of the rest of poems in Hesperides-could be put to music and sung aloud. By writing about a subject of such importance-the passage of time, and doing so in a way that is both pleasing to a reader or a listener Herrick makes a significant contribution to the world of poetry. An easy reaction to reading Herrick?s poetry is that it is short. Short being a relative term, but for the most part this is an accurate statement. Most likely this is the result of the ability to say a great deal-even about complex subjects-using powerful words that