Initially, in Herrick’s “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time”, it seems the speaker is a man who is simply trying to urge the virgins to be more promiscuous. However, while the title of the poem and the use of the word “coy” allude to the fact that sexual pleasure is key, the rosebuds are symbolic of pleasures of all types. Herrick uses figurative language to appeal to the reader and of course, his audience, the women he speaks of. When he writes “this same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying,” (Herrick 742) he is not speaking of an ordinary flower. He is referring to the virgins, who are young and warm-blooded, now, but with time, will age and ultimately, die. The women are being likened to blooming flowers that are full of beauty in one season of life and then, wither away and are gone the next. With a beautiful metaphor, the sun is compared to “the glorious lamp of heaven” (742) and the sun is referred to as “he”. The Sun given human characteristics and is personified as a race-runner who will soon finish his race. The sun will set and the “day” will be over. “Today”, as Herrick uses it in the first stanza seems to refer to one’s life. With life being so short, the poem urges the reader, and specifically, the “virgins”, as the targeted audience, to “make the most of time”, just as the title suggests.
Herrick has an uplifting tone in this poem. “There is internal rhyme through Herrick’s poem, strengthening its structure and encouraging a light, lyrical nature,” (Anfield) making it read like a song. His tone is also persuasive, as the speaker is urging the virgins, or maidens, to make the most of their lives. He urges the virgins to “be not coy” (Herrick 742)and to “go marry”(742), making sexual pleasure an important “rosebud” to gather, but in saying “gather ye rosebuds while ye may”, he makes the pleasures plural and not singular. He urges the women to enjoy life to its fullest and to experience as many pleasures as possible before life runs away with itself. The last stanza warns that if the “virgins” are “coy” and wait too long to marry, having lost their appealing youth and beauty, they may remain alone “forever”. In doing so, they would neglect to “gather” a very desirable “rosebud”, or pleasure that life stands to offer. This poem has been called a “carpe-diem” poem, which means “seize the day” in Latin and Herrick’s counterparts also wrote English poetry of this type in the sixteenth and seventeenth century (Carpe Diem).