Famously, Herrick’s poems mainly were ignored or disregarded during his lifetime due to their outwardly sexual subject matter. His work was not “discovered” until the 20th century (despite living in the 17th). This piece is one of those that some readers may find themselves disagreeing with due to Herrick’s outdated assertion regarding the importance of female purity.
Why Flowers Change Color Robert HerrickThese fresh beauties (we can prove)Once were Virgins sick of love,Turn'd to Flowers. Still in someColours goe, and colours come.
Explore Why Flowers Change Color
‘Why Flowers Change Color’ by Robert Herrick is a brief poem that alludes to the impact of change on women and flowers.
In the first lines of the poem, the speaker begins by stating that some virgins, young women, who were sick of love became flowers. This is something to speaker says that he can prove. Now, considering flowers as transformed, pure, young women, the speaker still notes that a change comes over them. Some change colors and others don’t.
Here, readers are going to be left with a few questions regarding what exactly Herrick was getting at. It seems likely that he was attempting a comparison between pollinated flowers, or dying flowers, and young women who lose their virginity. While also speaking more broadly about the way that change manifests.
Structure and Form
‘Why Flowers Change Color’ by Robert Herrick is a four-line poem or quatrain, that is contained within a single stanza. The lines follow a simple rhyme scheme of AABB. The lines are quite short and to the point. But, the poem still requires some interpretation due to Herrick’s somewhat vague allusions to change and women.
Throughout this piece, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “Still” and “some” in line three and “Colours” and “come” in line four.
- Caesura: can be seen when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line of verse. For example, “Turn’d to Flowers. Still in some.”
- Imagery: the use of particularly effective descriptions. They should inspire the reader to imagine the scene in the greatest detail as possible. For example: “These fresh beauties” and “sick of love.”
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two.
These fresh beauties (we can prove)
Once were Virgins sick of love,
In the first two lines of this short, four-line poem, the speaker begins by noting that the “fresh beauties,” or flowers that he’s looking at, were “Virgins sick of love.” This is something, the first line also adds, that “we can prove.”
Here, the speaker is using a metaphor to suggest that virgins have transformed into flowers. They did so because they were “sick of love.” It is unclear exactly why these women would be “sick of love,” but, perhaps they were seeking out a pure form of love, considering that they are virgins and Herrick found it important to note this fact and had difficulties they had doing so. Or, maybe the generalized “Virgins” decided that they were uninterested in love and chose to take a pure, beautiful form.
Turn’d to Flowers. Still in some
Colours goe, and colours come.
The second two lines of the poem only reveal slightly more information than the first two already have. The speaker confirms what the reader should’ve already interpreted from the first lines, that he is comparing virgins to flowers. Despite the fact that some of these young women have taken a form, one that should ensure their purity for their entire lives (even if their lives are shortened because they’re now flowers) he notes that some changes still occur.
There are some flowers in which “Colours goe” and “colors come.” Here, he’s emphasizing the change that can be seen when flowers grow, develop, change color, and perhaps lose that color. It’s likely, although not certain, that Herrick was attempting a comparison between a pollinated flower, or dying flower, that wilts after pollination and a virgin woman who, after having sex for the first time, (according to some religious and puritanical traditions) loses an element of her beauty and purity.
The theme is change. Specifically, changes in women and/or changes in beauty. The poet, speaking in accordance with beliefs of his time, describes the changes one sees as a woman loses her virginity and compares this change to the transformation of a flower.
This short poem speaks to the changes the speaker sees in women who lose their virginity and flowers that change color with the passage of time and pollination.
The message is that everything loses its peak beauty at some point. While Herrick’s suggestion about female virginity may be outdated today, he also speaks on the loss of physical beauty and the lifecycle of flowers.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Robert Herrick poems. For example:
- ‘Delight in Disorder’ – expresses the beauty the speaker sees in disorder in the small things in life such as lawn and dress.
- ‘His Return to London’ – a celebration of one speaker’s joyful return to London and his hopes that he can remain there.
- ‘To Find God’- was written not to convince readers one way or another about God, but simply to bring the question to the forefront of their minds.