To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time (Gather ye rosebuds)
How we cite our quotes:
Old time is still a-flying: (2)
The speaker uses a metaphor (time flying) that is so familiar that it's become a cliché. He suggests that there is still time left for the virgins to "gather" their "rosebuds."
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying. (3-4)
These lines immediately follow the ones about time "a-flying," suggesting that the passage of time is responsible for the flower's transition from "smiling" to "dying." The rhyme on "a-flying" and "dying" suggests as much, implying that letting time "fly" is one way to "die."
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting. (6-8)
The sun's journey through the sky is another instance of the passage of time in the poem; the word "a-getting" links the passage with the preceding stanza ("a-flying," 2) and its interest in death. Ironically, the closer the sun gets to its high point – the point when it is directly overhead – the closer it gets to "setting." The sun's high point (like the virgins' "prime," 15) is, strangely, a low point, because as soon as it reaches the high point, it starts to set.