Bibliography

Gaye, Phoebe Fenwick. John Gay: His Place in the Eighteenth Century. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1972. Johnson, Samuel. Lives of the English Poets. Vol. 2. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1958.

Lindsay, David W., ed. English Poetry, 1700-1780: Contemporaries of Swift and Johnson. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1974. Nokes, David. John Gay: A Profession of Friendship. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

"GO, LOVELY ROSE!" Edmund Waller (1645) Edmund Waller proved an immensely popular poet in his day, although his precise and unoriginal style could not sustain that popularity in later centuries. Still, 18th-century poets appreciated his insistence on correct diction and balance, seen in his song "Go, Lovely Rose!" He adopts the common theme of carpe diem in the best tradition of Cavalier poetry, utilizing the easily recognizable symbol of the rose for a woman ripe for romance. In this version Waller establishes the rose as a go-between for the poet to his love, adopting the figurative language of personification. The speaker bids the rose in the first line, also the title line, "Go, lovely rose!" The next lines make clear the rose's destination and its charge:

Tell her that wastes her time and me

That now she knows When I resemble her to thee, How sweet and fair she seems to be.

In this instance, the word resemble means "compare," as the speaker wants his lover to understand he thinks her as beautiful as the rose. Waller inserts that word as the only term that contains more than a single syllable, calling the reader's attention to it. Although the speaker is generous in his praise of the woman's beauty, he makes clear his impatience by accusing her of wasting her time and by resisting his efforts at romance. The second stanza emphasizes traditional Cavalier logic, or lack thereof. The speaker bids the rose to tell the young woman who "shuns to have her graces spied" that had the rose grown "In deserts, where no men abide," it would "have uncommended died." The message remains obvious: if the young woman hides her beauty, or graces, they might as well not exist. The false logic insists that unless praised by a lover, her physical attributes prove worthless.

The speaker presses this point in the third stanza, where Waller writes

Small is the worth of beauty from the light retired;

Bid her come forth, Suffer herself to be desired, And not blush so to be admired.

The speaker urges the young woman not to be shy. Not only will it not harm her to be admired, it will prove to her benefit. She should "come forth" as the rose does, when the bud matures and opens for the world to enjoy. That pleasure, however, remains fleeting, as the speaker next commands the rose, "Then die!" This startling command has its basis in the speaker's desire to teach the young woman that even the greatest beauty remains limited by time. Her own beauty will also fade with age, "The common fate of all things rare." Waller concludes the fourth stanza with the admonition "How small a part of time they share / That are so wondrous sweet and fair!"

"Go, Lovely Rose!" remains one of the most widely anthologized carpe diem poems.

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