Robert Herrick’s poem, “To the Virgins to make much of Time” extols the ‘carpe diem’ motif, the rose being a powerful emblem of the brevity of life. ’ Carpe diem’ is a Latin phrase meaning ‘seize the day.’ It was a common theme in Cavalier poetry. The rose also symbolizes the beauty of youth and its ephemeral nature. The poem was penned in 1648 and published in a collection of verse entitled Hesperides. The theme of the poem is similar to Ben Jonson’s poem “Song: To Celia” where the speaker stresses on the transient nature of life, but advises to seek union in holy matrimony and not in adulterous association. The latter combined with the ‘carpe diem’ motif was utilized in Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.” The combination of Christianity and the carpe diem motif is singular to Robert Herrick, and has not been employed in conventional poetry. The influence emerges from Herrick’s’ position as vicar of Dean Prior, as appointed by King Charles I. The background of the poem is the political turbulence that led to Britain’s Civil War. Therefore it emphasized the relishing of the present while it lasted.
Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a flying:
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.…