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What Is the Tone of the Poem "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time?"


The tone of poem represents the speaker's attitude toward the subject of poem and the audience. The tone implies the emotional meaning of the poem, and this meaning can be effectively conveyed in the poem’s diction and style. Robert Herrick’s poem, “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time,” delivers a playful tone, which encourages the reader to live life to its fullest.

Tone as Attitude

Tone is the speaker's attitude, and this attitude establishes the poem's atmosphere or mood. More specifically, the writer of the poem uses a particular kind of style to elicit a particular kind of response in the reader. The tone, as a result, evokes specific feelings in the reader, and this is what creates the poem's mood or atmosphere.

Herrick's Poem

Robert Herrick’s poem, “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time,” is a 17th century piece. The speaker addresses a group of virgins, or young unmarried women. Using the perspective of someone who is older and wiser, the speaker gives these women advice about life. For example, “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.” The speaker focuses on time and the brevity of life, but this attitude is not conveyed using nostalgia, desperation or negativity. Instead, the speaker appears hopeful, optimistic and even playful.

Tone of the Poem

The poem’s short lines and playful language give it a serious but playful tone. In the first stanza, Herrick writes, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, / Old Time is still a-flying; / And this same flower that smiles today, / Tomorrow will be dying.” The speaker uses the example of the flower to illustrate the fact that life is short and that, though the flower might “smile” today, it will die tomorrow. Though the poem deals with the inevitability of death, the speaker's attitude is encouraging. In other words, the poem is acknowledging the fact that life is short and encouraging the reader to live his life to the fullest.

Effects of Tone

The poem's playful tone aims to evoke feelings of optimism in the reader. The tone does not make it seem that the speaker is looking back on life with regret, but rather forward with a sense of possibility. It is as if the speaker is saying that, even if you had not lived your life to its fullest in the past, there is still opportunity to do so starting today.

About the Author

Kate Prudchenko has been a writer and editor for five years, publishing peer-reviewed articles, essays, and book chapters in a variety of publications including Immersive Environments: Future Trends in Education and Contemporary Literary Review India. She has a BA and MS in Mathematics, MA in English/Writing, and is completing a PhD in Education.

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