To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

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"To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" is a poem written by English Cavalier poet Robert Herrick in the 17th century. The poem is in the genre of carpe diem, Latin for seize the day. It goes as follows:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
To-morrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And, while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.

Theme: carpe diem[edit]

First published in 1648 as number 208 in a volume of verse entitled Hesperides, it is perhaps one of the most famous poems to extol the notion of carpe diem, a philosophy that recognizes the brevity of life and, therefore, the need to live for and in the moment. The phrase originates in Horace's Ode 1.11.

Possible influences/origins[edit]

The opening line, "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may", echoes the Latin phrase collige, virgo, rosas ("gather, girl, the roses"), which appears at the end of the poem "De rosis nascentibus",[1] also called "Idyllium de rosis", attributed to Ausonius or Virgil.

In the second book of Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, a young man in the Bower of Bliss sings, "Gather therefore the Rose, whilest yet is prime,/ For soone comes age, that will her pride deflowre:/ Gather the Rose of love, whilest yet is time,/ Whilest loving thou mayst loved be with equall crime."[2]

The first line and the theme of the poem also echo a well-known couplet in Shakespeare's Sonnet 18:

"Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
"And summer's lease hath all too short a date."

Nearly the same sense was expressed thousands of years earlier in Wisdom of Solomon 2:8, "Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither", a verse ironically given as the example of a fool's reasoning in denying the resurrection of the dead and turning to licence.

Popular culture[edit]

  • The line "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may" was quoted by Rex Masters in the episode "The Animal Within" of the British television murder mystery Midsomer Murders.
  • The line "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may" was quoted by John Keating (played by Robin Williams) in the film Dead Poets Society.
  • In "Rat Funeral", an episode of the TV series NewsRadio, Phil Hartman's character Bill McNeal misattributes the line "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may" to, as McNeal often does, John Keats.
  • The line "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may" is featured in episodes of two television series created by Aaron Sorkin. The line is featured in an exchange between the characters Josh Lyman and Donna Moss in the 16th episode of the first season of The West Wing.[3] The line "Gather ye rosebuds", and subsequent verse commencing at "Then be not coy, but use your time", was also quoted by Mackenzie to Jim in the 9th episode of the first season on the HBO series The Newsroom.[4]
  • The poem was featured in the 2006 film A Prairie Home Companion, at the conclusion of the movie.
  • The themes of this poem are featured heavily in the Dream Theater progressive metal epic A Change of Seasons.
  • The line "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may" was quoted by Sixpence None the Richer on "Meaningless", track 7 of their 1994 album The Fatherless and the Widow.
  • With a slight difference, the line "Love, gather your rosebuds while you may" appeared in The Veils' "Train on fire", track 2 of their 2013 album Time Stays, We Go.
  • The line "Gather ye rosebuds", and subsequent verse commencing at "Then be not coy, but use your time" was quoted and referenced by George O'Malley (played by T. R. Knight) to Izzy Stevens (played by Katherine Heigl) in the 12th episode of the third season of the TV show Grey's Anatomy.
  • Gather the Roses... first line is also heard in the 1962 comedy starring Jim Hutton, The Horizontal Lieutenant.
  • In one episode of Open All Hours, Arkwright quotes the first line - "Well you're only young once, gather ye rosebuds will ye may." during an exchange between himself and Granville about Granville's socialising after Arkright's shop has shut for the night.
  • The line "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may; old-time is still a-flying: and this same flower that smiles today; to-morrow will be a-dying" is used by the 1970s musician Lowell George his song "The Loved One" from the album Lowell George & the Factory Lightning Rod Man.
  • BBC Radio 4's dramatisation of Samuel Pepys's diary, starring Chris Marshall, opens with the first verse sung a capella, and then the same tune hummed. This is also used during the drama whenever music is required.
  • In Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, the character Winnie asks, “Where are the flowers? (Pause.) That smile today,” a quote from the poem.[5][6]
  • Joseph Philip Knight wrote a song, Gather Ye Rosebuds, in 1840.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "De rosis nascentibus" (in German) Archived 2007-08-11 at the Wayback Machine, in a collection of the works of Virgil under the note Hoc carmen scripsit poeta ignotus ("An unknown poet wrote this poem").
  2. ^ Jr, Edmund Spenser; edited by Thomas P. Roche, Jr., with the assistance of C. Patrick O'Donnell (1987). The faerie queene (Reprinted ed.). Harmondsworth: Penguin. p. Bk II, Canto XII, 75, 6–9. ISBN 0140422072.
  3. ^ "West Wing Transcripts".
  4. ^ ""The Newsroom" - The Blackout Part II: The Mock Debate episode review - Blast". 20 August 2012. Retrieved 3 December 2018.
  5. ^ Beckett, Samuel (2010). Happy Days. New York: Grove Press. p. 66. ISBN 9780802144409.
  6. ^ Knowlson, James (1985). Happy Days: The Production Notebook of Samuel Beckett. London: Faber and Faber. pp. 148–9.

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