This piece has many layers. Those who know Herrick and his contemporaries in the Renaissance know that poetry of the time fit into three categories: religion, politics, or sex. Herrick tended to fall into the later of those three more than any other despite having been a pastor early in his life, a fact that amuses me immensely. This is among pieces he wrote where there is a sexual impetus: go and have sex, be young while you can, get married before no one will want you for being too old. Don’t be an alarmist or think that he’s a terrible example for the #MeToo era because this poetry style is called the Carpe Diem and was not uncommon in that day and age; furthermore, in a time when women were still little more than property and were expected to be virgins upon their marriage while it was also socially acceptable for men to wander, it was fairly empowering for these male poets to argue for women to make choices for themselves even if their argument was somewhat skeevy.
With Herrick, this was not the first he wrote in this way or the last, but that’s not the layer I’m looking at today and I don’t think you have to be a young, chaste, and virginal maiden to have this message hit home.
This poem is all about the passage of time, the preciousness of the moments you’re in now, and the choice to remain the same or to change.
Time isn’t going to stop for you or for anything. Everything will whither and die in its time and everyone is always getting a little closer to the end of their story; this is not morbid but honest.
We have a set amount of time to live on this earth and therefore a set amount of time to fulfill our purpose, to build the relationships we are to build, and to make a positive difference in the circles we run in personally and professionally. But it’s not that we have equal time in each circle because each opportunity, each open door, is there for a time before the opportunity is missed and the door is closed.
Your time is limited in the amount available not just in life but in each season.
Will you walk through the doors that open when they open or stand on outside looking in?!
Will you purposefully build the relationships with those you’re drawn to or will you sit back and let those people move on from your life only to regret the loss for your remaining time on earth?
When things in your life are breaking down, will you sit and feel sorry for what is happening or will you choose to actively seek solutions and healing?
When things are hopelessly broken, will you sit in the rubble or will you choose to leave and build a new future for yourself?
Will you let time get away from you to the degree that there isn’t time or the ability to fix that which is broken or will you make use of the time that is here now?!
To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time
By Robert Herrick
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.
Originally published 10 December 2017