Robert Herrick’s poem, To the Virgins to Make Most of Time, begins
GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.
And just in case you don’t get that, he adds,
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.
All right, already. But there’s more:
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.
Is that really true? In certain ways, this poem has haunted me since those days when I was a bona fide virgin. Was that really the best time of my life? Hard to believe, but people kept repeating it.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry:
For having lost but once your prime,
You may for ever tarry.
There’s a threat for you. It’s a given that women are not as afraid of “tarrying” as they used to be, but still. There’s that message. Some have even interpreted the poem, fittingly for this day and age, to apply to male virgins as well. And to take virginity as any untried state. Meaning: whatever you’re doing or thinking of doing, get on with it!
So what does all that mean to those of us who must confess (or boast) that we are indeed beyond the prime? The prime of youth anyway. I think we still go on picking those rosebuds wherever we can find them. The real question is: whaddya mean, rosebuds?