Edmund Waller’s Song is not particularly original in its imagery, its theme or its message. I like to think it’s a little tongue in cheek, though I might be wrong. It’s very much the same carpe diem vein of poetry as Andrew Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’, employing different arguments towards the same ultimate end.
Go, lovely rose–
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.
Tell her that’s young,
And shuns to have her graces spied,
That hadst thou sprung
In deserts where no men abide,
Thou must have uncommended died.
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.
Then die!– that she
The common fate of all things rare
May read in thee;
How small a part of time they share
That are so wondrous sweet and fair!
Now here was I thinking that you gave roses to girls because they’re pretty and smell nice. You’re more or less saying ‘Here’s a pretty flower for a pretty girl’. Obviously I lack sophistication. For Waller, the rose is a symbol of the transieence of beauty, implicitly imploring the reciever to share her delights with him. ‘Implore’ is no exaggeration, as I sense a whiff of desperation just below the surface here – that comes to the fore with the dramatic ‘Then die!’ at the end of the last stanza. Poor rose.
There are no biographical notes in my Norton to tell me whether or not Waller’s plea was successful. He was a widower of 39 when he wrote the poem, unlucky in subsequent romantic adventures and living in exile during a bitterer part of the Civil war – during which he had taken the King’s side. Lucky for him, he survived into the Restoration and the delights of Charles II’s court.