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What is it to Marry?

Updated on September 24, 2013

Beauty does not last forever.

Carpe diem is a term defined as an aphorism quoted by Horace affirming the need to make the most of the present time (OED online). It has also been translated to mean, “Seize the day.” Two poems that are considered to be carpe diem poems are; Robert Herrick’s To the Virgins to Make Much of Time and Robert Frost’s poem Asking for Roses. In each of these poems, there are speakers sending a message to young females to make to the most of the present by marrying young and while they are still beautiful. Both speakers believe that if a woman does not marry when she is young, she may never will. In Robert Frost’s poem, he alludes to Herrick’s as he uses a narrative type of poem in which he tells the story of what happens to a woman if she does not marry young. Through imagery, personification, and the concept of time, each speaker conveys the theme that it is urgent for youthful women to marry while they still have time and beauty.

Robert Herrick was known unofficially as a Cavalier poet. Cavalier poets were formed in the 17th century and generally wrote of secular subjects and had a light style of writing in their poetry (Robert Herrick). Herrick’s poem To the Virgins to Make Much of Time has this style of writing. This light and lyrical style makes the subject of marriage seem crucial to a young woman’s life (Robert Herrick). Robert Herrick’s poem is a lyric poem with an ABAB rhyme scheme and starts with a sense of urgency as the speaker says, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, / Old Time is still a-flying” (lines 1-2). This line clearly reflects that time is of the importance and women must marry while they still can. The word “rosebuds” suggests that women should marry when they are young and the speaker uses rosebuds and flowers as symbols for youth because they suggest beauty and freshness. Another suggestion for this idea of “gathering rosebuds” may be that if woman does not pick roses while she is young, she may not be able to gather them when she gets older because she will not be physically able to. But, not only in the first few lines does the speaker tells the young girls to marry young, but to marry before they are too old and no one wants them any longer he says, “And this same flower that smiles to-day/ To-morrow will be dying” meaning that the beauty these women have now will be gone tomorrow (lines 3-4). Throughout this poem the speaker continues to use time in accordance with urgency as he says, “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” (lines5-8). The speaker is letting young women know that the older a woman gets, the closer she is to old age. The image of the sun setting could also mean that the closer to old age, a woman gets the closer to her death. In the rest of the poem, the speaker continues to try to convince young women to get married young because, “For having lost but once your prime, / You may for ever tarry,” or after your youth is gone, you will be without a man (15-16). Overall, the poem tells women to get married while they are young and attractive to men because one day they will be old and not beautiful anymore. This first poem having given a reason for women to marry young brings about the response to it, Asking for Roses by Frost, which tales the story of what happens to a woman if she does not.

Asking for Roses is an uncollected poem written by Frost and therefore lacks the criticism it deserves. Yet, this poem gives the main reasons why women should marry young and lays out the consequences in a narrative style of poem. This narrative poem is one that has six stanzas all consisting of four lines each. The first three stanzas are ABAB rhyme scheme, the third is CBCB, the fourth is DBDB, and the last stanza is EBEB rhyme scheme. The narrative poem is the tale of a woman who did not marry young and pretty and now is old and without a husband. At first, the poem has no speaker, and it would seem as if a setting is being mention then the scene advances to a couple walking in a garden. The first four lines of the poems set up a scene as the poem reads, “A hose that lacks, seemingly, mistress and master, / With doors that none but the wind ever closes, / Its floor all lettered with glass and plaster; / It stands in a garden of old-fashioned roses,” (Frost lines 1-4). This lonely looking house appears to lack more than a husband, it lacks children and up-keeping also. It is here the where the poem produces its subject matter of what will happen to a woman if she does not marry young. The first speaker in the poem appears to be a man walking through a rose garden with a woman named Mary.

Mary is the lover of the first speaker, and she is the first person to call on the mistress of the house. She calls to the woman of the house and says, “Pray, are you within there, Mistress Who-were-you?” when the two come upon the garden and want roses (line 13). The woman to whom she is speaking is elderly because it takes her a while to come to the door. The reader assumes this because Mary must call again and says, “Pray, are you within there? Bestir you, Bestir you! / Tis Summer again; there’s two come for roses” (lines 15-16). As the couple stands outside the door, the male speaker says to Mary alluding to the poem To the Virgins, “Old Herrick: a saying that every maid knows is, / A flower unplucked is but left to the falling, / And nothing is gained by not gathering roses” (lines 18-20). Here the male speaker reiterates what Robert Herrick’s speaker in To the Virgins, that being “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,” meaning get you a husband while you are young and pretty (Herrick, line 1). This speaker knows that the mistress of this how has no husband and therefore is an “unplucked” rose. The couple holds hands and wait for the mistress of the house as the male speakers says, “We do not loosen our hands’ intertwining/ Not caring so very much what she supposes,” and don’t take into account whether or not the woman of house is sadden by it, (lines 21-22). When the mistress of the house finally does appear, she is crying, “There when she comes on us mistily shining/ And grants us by silence the boon of her roses” (lines 23-24). In the Frost poem, there is an essence of time, such as when the mistress of the home takes a long time to come to the door, she has grown old and time has slowed her down.

Robert Frost’s Asking for Roses is the story of the consequences of not marrying young. The message is that if the young and pretty females do not marry while they are still young, they will end up old and alone watching in sadness and silence at other couples. In comparison, both Robert Herrick’s To the Virgins and Robert Frost’s Asking for Roses are sending the same message, which is marry young and pretty or end up old and alone. However, there are several differences that can be taken into account about the two of these works. One difference between the Frost and Herrick poem is that in Herrick’s, the speaker is giving a sort of warning to young females of marriageable age to marry, and in the Frost poem the woman has not listened to that warning and now is an old maid.

The Frost poem is a response to Robert Herrick’s Asking for Roses and is important because not only does it tell young females to get married young; it also tells them that if they do not, they will live a lonely life without the happiness of children, a husband, and a well-kept home. Another difference is that it gives the benefits of marriage. In the Frost poem, there is an essence of time such as when the mistress of the home takes a long time to come to the door, she has grown old and time has slowed her down. There is one more difference between Herrick’s and Frost’s poetry and it is musical.

Robert Herrick set a lot of his poems to music of which at least twenty-three are known, and among them is To the Virgins to Make Much of Time. A. E. Elmore says, “Considering Herrick’s numerous references to music and specifically to the setting and singing of his own poems, and considering that virtually that all, of the poems for which tunes have survived were set by men he seems to have known, we may reasonably assume that all, or very nearly all, of these twenty-three poems were written as songs—that is, with the conscious expectation that they would be set to music and sung” (Elmore, 67). The Musical Times said, “So long as song writers exist there would seem to be no possibility of the poems of Robert Herrick being forgotten” (To the Music). Robert Herrick not only succeeded at writing some beautiful poetry but also was successful in setting this poetry to music making it even sweeter.

Robert Herrick and Robert Frost have more in common than their first names. Each man is an individual who has talent in the writing of poetry. In To the Virgins and in Asking for Roses, each man has declared that a woman should marry young in order for her to be happy and procreate. In other words life is short so marry whilst one still can.

Annotated Bibliography

Burnshaw, Stanley. Robert Frost Himself. New York: George Braziller, 1986.

This book is a biography about the life of Robert Frost. It includes illustrations of Frost and his family and it was useful in that it gave background information on his life.

Gerber, Phillip L. Robert Frost. Ed. Kenneth Eble. Boston: Twayne, 1966.

This book is one of the Twayne series published in the United States Author’s series. It includes criticism on some of Robert Frost’s works and a short biography. It was not useful in that it didn’t contain information on the poem I am looking at.

Holland, Norman N. The Brain of Robert Frost: A Cognitive Approach to Literature. New York

Routledge, 1988.

This is an interesting book that looks at how Robert Frost wrote his prose and poetry. It takes a look at the brain and tries to justify how Frost wrote his work and includes criticism on the subject of these works. It wasn’t as useful as I would have hoped.

Meyers, Jeffery. Robert Frost. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.

This book is yet another of the many biographies of Frost’s life but is more current and in depth. It has illustrations included and an appendix with a fascinating collection of all the allusions in Frost’s work. This book was because it was a biography and the illustrations were not related to what I am writing about but it was interesting to see what he looked like.

Moorman, F. W. Robert Herrick: A Biographical and Critical Study. New York: Russell and

and Russell, 1963.

This book contains information about the life of Robert Herrick as well as criticism on his works. It mainly focuses on one of Herrick’s collection of poems entitled Hesperides. It is nice to see what kinds of poems Herrick wrote and useful to see if they connect or relate to the one I am researching.

Pritchard, W. H. Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered. New York: Oxford, 1984.

This book is a short biography of Frost’s life, written in an effort to shorten the longer 2000 page version written by Lawrence Thompson. It is very useful to look at the life of Frost and see how his life may have influenced his work.

Rollin, Roger B. “Robert Herrick.” Twayne English Author Series. Ed. Arthur F. Kinney. New

York: Twayne, 1992.

This series features critical essays on Herrick’s works and some of the criticism takes a look at the historical aspects related to Herrick’s topics and the types of figurative language used within these works. It is useful in looking at the time in which Herrick was writing and his use of figurative language.

Smith, Lance and Robert Herrick. “To Music.” The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular,

Vol. 40, No. 681 (Nov. 1 1899), p. 762. <>.

This article is a review on Robert Herrick’s words and the music of some of his poetry set to Lance Smith’s music. It is usual in looking at how others viewed Herrick’s poetry as it was set to music.

Trust to Good Verses: Herrick’s Tercentenary Essays. Ed. Roger B. Rollin and J. Max Patrick.

Pittsburg: University of Pittsburg, 1978.

These collections of essays are criticisms on the works of Robert Herrick that were presented at the Robert Herrick Memorial Conference at the University of Michigan-Dearborn in 1974. This conference was held to commemorate the three hundredth anniversary of the poet’s death. It is useful in that it provides criticism but not as useful for my particular poem.

Works Cited

Carpe diem. OED Online.

Elmore, A. E. “Herrick and the Poetry of Song.” Trust to Good Verses: Herrick’s Tercentenary

Essays. Ed. Roger B. Rollin and J. Max Patrick. Pittsburg: Press, 1978. 65-69.

Frost, Robert. Asking for Roses. Google. 19 April 2009.


Herrick, Robert. To the Virgins. The Norton Anthology of Poetry. Ed. Margaret Ferguson, Mary

Jo Salter and Jon Stallworthy. New York: Norton, 2005. 228.

"Robert Herrick." New World Encyclopedia. 3 Apr 2008, 21:17 UTC. 1 Apr 2009, 16:33


Smith, Lance and Robert Herrick. “To Music.” The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular,

Vol. 40, No. 681 (Nov. 1 1899), p. 762. <>.


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