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Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth century a significant theme in poetry was once carpe diem. Carpe diem is a Latin term that means “seize the day.” The theme of carpe diem is mainly used in love poems and may also be described as “Time is fleeting, so act decisively to enjoy yourself”. This means to live in the moment because you never know when it could be your last day. Horace, a Roman poet, was the first person to use carpe diem poetry. Many works have been written using carpe diem; two of these works include “To His Coy Mistress,” written by Andrew Marvell, and “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” written by Robert Herrick. In carpe diem poetry, poets frequently include the idea of sex within the poem. The man is usually making an attempt to try and persuade the woman to have sex because their time could end soon, and the woman is typically described as a virgin. “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” by Robert Herrick and “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell introduce the idea of carpe diem in distinct ways; one is unusual, the other uses common objects, such as a flower.
Both poets wrote their poem during very turbulent times. Andrew Marvell wrote “To His Coy Mistress” in the sixteenth century. He wrote many other poems that contain metaphysical traits, consisting of conceits and paradoxes. Some contain “qualities of Donne’s verse, while others have the classical qualities recommended by Jonson”. His work is considered classic however, “he was thought of chiefly as a satirist until the nineteenth century”. Marvell’s poetry was considered to be “masterful,” while Herrrick’s poems were overlooked by his peers. Both Marvell and Herrick were not taken seriously until the nineteenth century, which is when Herrick’s poems were revived. Herrick was viewed as a “playboy” but later it was found out that he was a “bachelor church official”. Both men were English poets and lived during the sixteenth century. Now both of their poems are classics and are considered major works.
Each poem reveals the idea of carpe diem in different ways. “To His Coy Mistress” uses imagery that is not as common in “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time.” It is stated that “Marvell approaches the theme with a mix of whimsical fancy and passionate urgency. Herrick delivers a more traditional version of the theme, using familiar imagery to depict the passing seasons”. “To His Coy Mistress” compares the love of a man to “vegetable love,” which is an uncommon statement to use for someone to declare their love. The term vegetable love is supposed to demonstrate that love grows over time, however being as this is a carpe diem poem, it is also used to describe how time flies quickly so experience the good in life while you can. A rose is used by Herrick to symbolize the time passing by and the love shared in “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time.” According to Mary Ruby, “Poets writing carpe diem lyrics frequently use the rose as a symbol of transient physical beauty and the finality of death”. For instance, the first two lines of “To the Virgins, to make Much of Time” read, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, /Old time is still a-flying”. This is an excellent example of carpe diem because it is saying that a person should enjoy life while they can because one-day life will be over and there is nothing more that can be done. The rose is used to show that life is not forever, and a person should make the most of the time they have left.
Carpe diem poems are typically considered to be love poems. However, some of them seem to be “lust poems”. “To His Coy Mistress” is filled with lust. According to James Scruton: The argument in the poem concerns sexual gratification. The speaker’s premise in the first verse paragraph describes the rate at which he would woo the lady, given time enough to do so properly. In the second verse paragraph, the premise is the blunt fact of human mutability: Time is limited. In his conclusion, Marvell’s speaker resolves these conflicts — figuratively, at least. Throughout many works of carpe diem poetry a man is attempting to get the woman to have sex with him, and Marvell does not stray from that theme. The man in the poem only focuses on the desire he has for the woman to have intercourse with him, therefore the theme is more lust than love.
“To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” contains the mentality of living life to the fullest. Throughout the poem the speaker is suggesting that time is running out, therefore, women need to get married before they are no longer in the best stages of their life. Herrick infers that once a woman marries, she must lose her virginity because life is too short. Not only does the word virgin refer to chaste women, it also refers to those who are naïve. The women are naïve because they have not recognized the passing of time. In Herrick’s poem: The virgins of the title are uninitiated both sexually and philosophically, and the speaker’s aim is to persuade them to have their bodies and minds “deflowered” before they pass the point where the loss of both literal and figurative virginity will be meaningless: an old virgin cannot bear children, nor can she make up for the time she lost in being coy. The passing of time is unavoidable, so it must be enjoyed while it can. According to the poem, women need to get married and have sex as soon as possible, or they will not have lived a fun life.
Herrick’s style of writing is very similar to William Wordsworth, and is viewed differently today then it was years ago. In his “Critical Essay on ‘To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time,’” the author states that, “Although a modern reader may find the imagery and diction a trifle too quaint and the meter a bit too singsong and cute, Herrick does employ in the poem the technique of “nodding to nature” from which Wordsworth would fashion his career over a century later”. Herrick also expresses the idea of carpe diem through the seasons and a rose. He uses rosebuds to represent experiences that should be taken before death. Once they bud over time, they can begin to open up to the world. The flowers will eventually age and be no more, so their beauty has to be appreciated while it can. According to Daniel Moran: The poem’s opening stanza presents the rosebud as a symbol of experience, specifically, the experience that involves falling in love and losing one’s sexual innocence. Note that the flower is a “bud”: a soon-to-blossom rose that, hopefully like the virgins themselves, will no longer hide its beauty from the world. Herrick’s use of “smiles” (rather than “blooms”) emphasizes the joy that will accompany the virgins’ own blossoming into wives. That “same flower,” however, will be dying “Tomorrow”; the speaker does not literally mean the day after its blossom, but is compressing the life of the flower to a single day to emphasize the short time nature allows all things to live.
The experiences of life, including marriage and love, should be shared with the world at least once in their lifetime. “To His Coy Mistress” uses many different aspects to ensure that the reader is able to understand and enjoy the poem. For example, satire is used throughout the poem to provide comic relief on the idea of death. In addition, Marvell uses a lot of irony in his poem. The irony exemplifies the universe and its eternal life. According to Bruce King, “The argument of the poem relies upon a definite structure of attitudes towards the universe. If man lived in an eternal world there would be time for courtly graces and virtuous attitudes, but since life is short, one should enjoy it as fully as one can while there is still time”. “To His Coy Mistress” appreciates the beauty of the world and the experiences that may occur in it. The “His” in the title is used to create space between the voice and the maker. The world is not permanent, and it will eventually end. When the world does end, there should be no regrets. Marvell also used a different style of writing and a different way to present themes. For instance, “To His Coy Mistress” gives philosophical questions about whether or not there is a God. This is not usual for a work from the seventeenth century being as there is rarely a question of, “either there is a God and spiritual values are operative, or there is no God and the world is blind matter without meaning”. Through this work Marvell tries to reveal distance through the use of the word “His.” With the idea of God or no God there is another question about permanence. In the beginning of the poem Marvell reveals that the world is temporary, and that everyone should live life to the fullest because nothing is permanent.
Therefore, carpe diem poetry was very common throughout the sixteenth century. Many authors used it in reference to women losing their virginity. Most carpe diem poems have the same takeaway, which is that life is too short. Living life to the fullest is important and should not be taken for granted. “To His Coy Mistress,” by Andrew Marvell, and “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” by Robert Herrick, both contain the theme of carpe diem and share the theme of virginity. In both poems, a man explains that time is running out so a woman needs to have sex with them. The men say that no one deserves to or should die a virgin. Although the poems are written in different styles, the same themes and ideas are revealed to the readers. Both writers use imagery and symbolism to reveal the passing of time, in addition to love. Both speakers have ulterior motives as to why a person should live in the moment, but it is important to listen to their reasons. There should be no regrets in life, people need to love others and enjoy life, because before they know it, life can flash before their eyes.
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