Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
- The poem opens with the speaker telling the virgins to gather their ("ye") rosebuds while they still can ("while ye may"). "Old Time," after all, is passing quickly ("a-flying").
- The "a" in "a-flying" doesn't really mean anything; it's just an older way of pronouncing a verb.
- "Ye" is an old word for "your" and "you."
- It's not clear if the speaker is referring to actual rosebuds, or if they are a metaphor for something else. We'll have to wait and see.
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
- The speaker elaborates on the advice of the first two lines, telling the virgins that "this flower" will die soon – although he probably means that everything eventually dies.
- Flowers don't literally smile, so the phrase likely means something like "blooms."
- In Renaissance usage, "die" frequently meant "have an orgasm." That meaning may or may not be at work here. See "Quotes" for more on this possibility.