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Go, Lovely Rose
A Poem by Edmund Waller (1606-1687)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Summary of the Poem
Text
Themes
Rhyme
Meter
Figures of Speech
Meaning of Waste
Study Questions
Essay Topics
Biography
Index of Study Guides
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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings... 2010
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Type of Work and Year of Publication

......."Go, Lovely Rose" is lyric poem with four quatrains (four-line stanzas) in which the speaker addresses a rose he is sending to a young lady. It was first published in 1645 in Poems, a collection of Waller's works. It is among the most famous and most admired short poems in English literature.

Summary

.......Before sending a rose to a young lady, the speaker of the poem addresses the flower as if it were a person. He instructs it to tell the lady that seeing a rose before her will make it clear why the sender compares her to the flower, for she is just as sweet and fair as it is. The rose is also instructed to tell her that she should not hide herself from public view, like a rose in a desert, for no one will see and appreciate her beauty. She will eventually waste away and die there, unappreciated. Instead, she should come forth and allow herself to be desired. She need not blush when the speaker admires her. 
.......Finally, the rose is to serve as a reminder of the young lady's mortality when it withers and dies not long after she receives it. She will then know that her own life is also short and that she ought to take advantage of the pleasures of life before time steals her youth and sends her to her grave.
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Go, Lovely Rose
By Edmund Waller

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. 5

    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.   10

    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.   15

    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!   20
 

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Themes

Carpe Diem (Seize the Day)

.......The speaker says the young lady wastes her time and his (line 2) by remaining aloof. Before she realizes it, she will wither and die, like the rose that he is sending her. Therefore, the speaker says, she should come out of hiding and reveal her beauty, like a blooming rose, in order to take advantage of what life has to offer before youth passes her by. 
.......The Roman poet Horace (65-8 BC) popularized the idea of living for the moment in an ode published in 23 BC. He wrote, "Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero." Loosely translated, this sentence says, "Seize the day rather than placing your trust in the future." Over the centuries, the words carpe diem, or seize the day, gained widespread currency as a term for categorizing any literary work whose primary purpose was to persuade readers to make the most of the here and now. Although Edmund Waller does not use these Latin words in his poem, he expresses a carpe diem theme.

Romance

.......The speaker obviously wants to court the young lady, who keeps to herself apparently because she is shy or is indisposed for another reason. He compliments her by sending her a rose intended to represent her beauty.

Persuasion

.......The poem is an exercise in persuasion, presenting sentiments intended to cajole the young lady to emerge from hiding. For example, if she remains in confinement, the speaker says, she will be like a rose that grows in a desert. No one will be able to appreciate her beauty. "Small is the worth / Of beauty from the light retired," he says. In time, her beauty will fade, and opportunities for a fulfilling life will have passed her by.
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Rhyme

The rhyme scheme of "Go, Lovely Rose" is ababb, as the first stanza demonstrates.

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
Meter

.......The poem alternates between iambic dimeter and iambic tetrameter. Iambic dimeter is a metric pattern with two pairs of syllables per line, the first syllable of each pair unstressed and the second one stressed. A pair of syllables with this pattern is called an iamb. Iambic tetrameter is a metric pattern with four pairs of syllables per line, all of them iambs. For further information about iambic dimeter and iambic tetrameter, see Meter.
The following example demonstrates the metric pattern.

.......1...............2.......
Go, LOVE..|..ly.ROSE.......................................................iambic dimeter

......1...................2....................3...............4
Tell HER..|..that.WASTES..|..her.TIME..|..and.ME...............iambic tetrameter

.......1...............2.......
That NOW..|..she.KNOWS,...............................................iambic dimeter

......1.................2...............3............4
When I..|..re.SEM..|..ble.HER..|..to.THEE............................iambic tetrameter

......1.................2...............3............4
How SWEET..|..and.FAIR..|..she.SEEMS..|..to.BE...............iambic tetrameter

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Figures of Speech
 

.......Metaphor and personification are the controlling figures of speech in the poem.
.......A metaphor compares one thing to an unlike thing without using like, as, or than. In "Go, Lovely Rose," the speaker compares the rose to a young lady he hopes to court. Personification treats a thing as a human being. In the poem, the speaker turns the rose into a person that will deliver a message to the young lady.
.......The poem also uses alliteration, as in the following examples:

lovely rose

now she knows

sweet and fair she seems to be

That hadst thou sprung

Suffer herself to be desired

That are so wondrous sweet and fair

The Meaning of Waste (Line 2)

.......In line 2, the speaker says the lady "wastes" her time and me. Waste can have two meanings here: first, that the lady is foolishly throwing away an opportunity to form a relationship with a worthy man; second, that the young lady's absence is causing the man to pine for her. It seems likely that Waller had the second meaning in mind.
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Study Questions and Writing Topics

  • Write a short poem consisting of quatrains (four-line stanzas) that use a metric and rhyme pattern similar to Marvell's. The topic is open. 
  • In an essay, compare and contrast Waller's poem with other poems on the theme of carpe diem. Examples are "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time," by Robert Herrick, and To His Coy Mistress, by Andrew Marvell.
  • Would you describe Waller's poem as simple or complicated?
  • Would you describe the tone of the poem as light and witty or serious and exalted?
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