He passed copies of the poem around the room. We were 15.
“‘To Make Much of Time’ by Robert Herrick,” it said at the top of the paper:
“Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
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.
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.
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.”
We discussed the poem and dissected it. Its meaning is obvious: take advantage of the time you have; don’t waste it.
But I felt like I had read the poem before and had somehow come up with an entirely different meaning. Perplexed, I didn’t say a word during the discussion.
A stack of poetry books sits on my dresser. The rest are at home, collecting dust in my dad’s office.
I attack my books with brightly colored pens and highlighters, circling and marking my favorite lines. Emily Dickinson –– my namesake, actually –– is my favorite. I’ve fattened her Selected Poems book with multi-colored sticky notes.
My mom bought me a book of romance poems (my weakness), and I did the same thing –– I read through each poem and marked my favorite lines and passages. Herrick’s poem was in there.
Later during that class period, I decided to do what my generation does best: Google it.
Up it popped, showing three words that change the poem’s meaning. “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time,” it said. I gaped.
I pointed it out to my classmates and then called the teacher over.
He denied it. At first. Then he recognized our –– namely my –– outrage.
Robert Herrick didn’t write the poem to appeal to everyone. He specifically aimed it toward one audience. And my English teacher had the audacity to underestimate us by chopping off its real meaning.
I’d like to think that teacher has been showing this poem to other sophomores for the past five years under the correct title, but that’d be an overestimation. I’m sure it’s been scrapped, never to be taught in that teacher’s classroom ever again after being outsmarted by a group of 15-year-olds.