Those maidens gathering rosebuds? What was it that made Herrick think he had to keep urging them on? Were they afraid? Were they bored? Were they just getting tired? Rosebuds aren’t so easy to handle. Looking at a patch of them, from a distance, say, it’s easy to have illusions: bright colors, nice shapes, lovely smell. What could be bad?
And I don’t mean just the prickliness, though perhaps that ought to give some
pause. There’s also all that stooping, reaching, grabbing, and the potential for repetitive stress injury. Oh, they never think of that when they being gathering, do they?
Keep on gathering for forty of fifty years. See how that goes. And we haven’t even begun to talk about allergies. Who thinks about allergies when they begin gathering rosebuds? Gesundheit!
But fatigue — that’s the real stopper. Who would ever have thought those maidens could get tired?
When I talk about this project, I notice the first thing many people say is, “Oh, you mean like Citizen Kane? Well, actually, no. I hardly ever think about Citizen Kane, but that poem by Herrick has followed me around for a long time.
Enter: ratiocination process. I have no fear of becoming Citizen Kane, and even when I was young, naive, and still harbored fantasies about becoming rich and famous, I never thought about becoming a rich newspaper
magnate. In fact, I never thought about becoming a rich and famous male anything. For obvious reasons. Even fantasies have to have some furthest stretch of the imagination possibility.
Those virgins gathering rosebuds, though — they had a lot of possibility in my imagination. Especially, I think, when I was young. Because what is it Herrick is warning the virgins about really? Becoming an old maid. And if you think about it, what he’s warning them about is even starker than that. Nowhere does he mention marriage, ha, ha. He is warning them that they may grow old without ever experiencing sexual pleasure.
Was that a threat that meant something to me in my virginal youth? I’m afraid it may have. No so much later, of course. I think there does come a time when almost all women realize that sexual pleasure is pretty available. But the fear remains. Many people have noticed that this poem could be taken to mean that everyone — male, female, young, middle-aged — should be gathering those rosebuds as fast as they can. And that the rosebuds don’t always stand for sexual pleasure.
This long and roundabout stream of consciousness gets to the answer. What do I mean rosebuds? I mean what can be gathered: challenges, satisfactions, creations, deliverances. And i mean it’s a human imperative. Therefore: not you’re only as young as you feel or any of that nonsense.
I’m going to begin by reprising some material already extant, a blog I did for Streetlight Magazine some time ago. It’s my base, so I want it here. 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. And 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. Depressed yet? Here’s the punchline: Then be not coy, but use your time, And while ye may, go marry: For having lost but once your prime You may forever tarry. A poem specific to its time, of course — and the customs of that time — but much quoted still, in this so different time. Probably tarrying is not the worst fear one has these days, male or female. The question is: are there any rosebuds left? My modest goal — befitting age perhaps– is to take a look.