Robert Herrick: Poems

To His Coy Virgins

To His Coy Virgins

The concept of carpe diem or “seize the day” is a popular poetic credo. Seventeenth century poets Andrew Marvell and Robert Herrick address carpe diem by admonishing young virgins against coyness and procrastination. Despite differences in device, motive, and narrative voice, Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” and Herrick’s “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time” are unified by an urgent message. This message emphasizes that a young girl should utilize the gift of youth while she is still able, or she will later regret having not lived. More specifically, the virgin should not remain chaste her entire life, and should relinquish her virginity while young so she does not cheat herself out of the pleasures of youth.

The two poems share much imagery. Both poets personify the sun and time as looming reminders of mortality. Marvell sees the sun as life’s adversary, and asks his mistress to challenge fleeting time by living deliberately with him, “Thus, though we cannot make our sun/Stand still, yet we will make him run ” (45-46). Herrick takes a more passive approach to the sun, seeing it as a mark of time’s inevitable passage, “The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun/The higher he’s a getting/The sooner will his race...

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