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-dayTo-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
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.