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To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time (Gather ye rosebuds)

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time (Gather ye rosebuds)

by Robert Herrick

Mortality Theme

Mortality is a fancy word for the inevitability of death. "To the Virgins" talks about the death of a flower, the setting of the sun (another kind of death, and a metaphor for human life), about how getting older means getting closer to death, and about the possibility of a sort of living death, exemplified in the poem's nightmarish vision of an unmarried life. Even though death is everywhere, we can still make the most of what time we have.

Questions About Mortality

  1. Are you afraid of death? Do you have a "bucket list" (i.e., a list of things to do before you die)?
  2. Why is the poem so obsessed with death?
  3. What is the speaker's attitude toward death?
  4. What other works of literature portray death in the same way as this poem?
  5. Does the poem ever hint at rebirth? In which lines?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Although the speaker emphasizes the brevity of life, and thus the importance of acting during one's "prime," both the sun (stanza 2) and the flowers (stanza 1) suggest the possibility of rebirth or second chances. The rosebush will grow new flowers, and the sun will rise again.

"To the Virgins" describes both literal deaths (the flower) and a number of figurative ones (the setting of the sun; the "tarrying" of the last stanza), and it remains undecided about which is worse.

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