Amazing! What a wonderful example of a brazen and direct man.
It’s pretty obvious as this poem gets straight to the point, but this is all about a man wanting to get a girl to drop her knickers and using the most crude analogy with a rose to show how it would be a crime/shame if she doesn’t allow the world to make the most of her beauty.
Go, lovely rose!,
Tell her that wastes her time and
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!
Edmund Waller (1606-1687)
Click through the tabs below to explore my analysis of different aspects of the poem.
Thank God for poets! Another interesting chap with lots of scandal in his life. I’ll tell you a bit about it and then explain the relevant bits at the end.
He has a relatively uninteresting youth, but when he comes of age he becomes stinking rich, becomes a politician and decides he can get away with whatever he likes and gets interesting.
First he seduces a teenage ward and gets married to her without permission (a pretty scandalous thing to do) and had to pay a fine. She died three years later (marriage 1631-4) so he turned his attention to another teenager and enjoyed a pleasant and passionate spell of naughtiness with her before she married someone else (scandalous!).
Then the scandal took on a political nature as he was part of a plot to give the King more powers over Parliament. However, he was caught and blabbed about all the other conspirators in order to save his own skin, before being banished from the country.
So, which of this is relevant to the poem? I think the bit about his relationships, which were always established on the basis of passion and naughtiness rather than through the proper etiquette and expectations of the day. His interest in passion should be fairly obvious in the poem.
Yet another side of love. This time we are dealing with lust and infatuation as this man is obsessed with this woman and wants her now. However, there is also a strong link to mortality as the poet uses the girl’s mortality as a reason she should allow herself to be enjoyed before her beauty withers away – quite an uninspiring presentation of the idea of carpe diem.
This poem is addressed to a personified rose and is a set of instructions as to its purpose.
The rose is to be sent to a potential lover for a series of different reasons. Initially, in the first stanza, is romantic in the sense that the rose is something to be compared to her as it is ‘sweet and fair’, but also blunt as it is a sign that she should not ‘waste her time’ playing games with him.
His instructions continue in the second stanza as now the rose has to tell this girl that if she doesn’t allow men to appreciate her and her beauty then she will die ‘uncommended’ or without the praise her beauty deserves. The comparison with a desert flower unseen by men is used to show the futility of unappreciated beauty.
Again this idea continues in the third. He talks about her value being diminished by the fact she shies from the light, in other words she doesn’t allow others to appreciate her beauty. She should allow herself to be wanted and enjoy it rather than blush and hide away.
Finally, the rose is meant to wither and lose its beauty to show the girl that the same fate will await her: she’ll get old and ugly and then die unappreciated (quite a nice comparison point with When I Was Fair and Young). He ends by emphasising how short the life of beauty is, which is an obvious truth for a rose, but also an almost threatening promise to the girl: your beauty will soon die, so make use of it.
You’ve got to talk about how unconventional the language is in relation to the topic. When we think of love poetry we think of romantic nonsenses being uttered, completely oblivious of any fault with the lover involved. Here, there is barely an ounce of romance and the phrasing is so blunt and demanding, we should be outraged and the girl it is addressed to should give him a slap.
The only romantic phrase is the clichéd comparison of her beauty and that of the rose – ‘How sweet and fair’. Even this is prefaced by the poet’s annoyed description of her as ‘her that wastes her time’, which is a rude assertion that this girl’s current state of existence (not entangled by his thighs) is unimportant or insignificant. He thinks she is wasting her youth and her beauty – also, his tone comes across as a bit frustrated and maybe he feels that she is wasting his time as well, playing hard to get.
Clearly she only exists for others to admire her (feminist get indignant here) as apparently she should be devastated if she has to ‘uncommended die’. He seems to think her life has no meaning if no one gets to appreciate her beauty and that a full life can only be achieved through having love – marriage or sex, you choose how vulgar you want the poem to be.
Again flowers are used as a metaphor to describe this as she is link to a desert flower that blooms without an audience and he clearly feels that beauty needs to be enjoyed or that it becomes pointless. Is he right? Maybe, but it’s not a very romantic way of making a move on a girl.
Beauty needing to be shared features in the third stanza too. He claims that when beauty is ‘from the light retired’ it loses its value; in other words, beauty is only valuable when it can be appreciated. Clearly this is something that makes the girl in question uncomfortable as he tells her to ‘not blush’ and she is described as ‘suffer[ing]’ when men do clearly fancy her, whereas the poetic voice thinks she should be proud of her beauty. The choice of the word ‘desire’ here immediately makes me think of a carnal or lustful interest in the girl, this is not just a distant appreciation or a gentle affection, but the word conjures pictures of men undressing her with their eyes or queuing up to rip her clothes off and have their wicked way. Only me?
What about stanza four! Make sure you mention how provocative this opening statement is. ‘Then die!’ with an exclamation to really ram it home. It is an instruction to the rose, but also to the girl that shows his frustration with her determination to be coy and he wants a physical demonstration of what will happen to her the longer time goes on. Here we get an impression of how physical beauty is the only aspect of this girl that the poetic voice seems to value. Charming!
Mention the imperatives. The poem opens with a command or an order and then ends with one at the beginning of the fourth stanza. ‘Go!’ and ‘die!’ are signs that this man is not gently coaxing this girl, but is commanding her to his bed and using cold, unromantic reason to seduce her rather than flowery platitudes.
Also talk about the logic of the poem. If you get a chance read some of the work of any of the metaphysical poets to see other examples of this style; they use reason rather than romance to make their point (To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell is a particularly good example). In Go, Lovely Rose! we have the same idea, a well structured argument explaining exactly why this girl needs to drop her knickers now:
1. She is beautiful.
2. Beauty should be appreciated.
3. Be proud of what you’ve got.
4. Or you’ll die, withered and alone.
You could also mention the regularity of the poem (four stanzas each of 5 lines – 4,8,4,8,8 syllables in each (I think); regular ABABB rhyme scheme) reflects his emotion; this is not a man who is taken by passion, but a calculated and reasoned expression of desire.
A little bit angry or frustrated as he really wants this girl to see reason and drop her knickers as soon as possible.