Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May was created in 1909, by British painter John William Waterhouse. It is the 2nd in a set of two paintings inspired by the 17th century poem To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time, by Robert Herrick. The painting was influenced by Romanticism techniques and the poem is in the genre carpe diem, (Latin for “seize the day”)
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.
This is only the first stanza of the poem, which did not reflect on the 1600s, a time of religious conflict and scientific advancements. The poem is basically about Herrick telling women to make most of their time before getting married (“gather rosebuds”), because they won’t be able to enjoy the same things and that youth is the prime age. A lot of the poet’s work is in the carpe diem genre, and was not very much regarded in his own time. They were actually printed and recognized in 1900s, the time period of Romanticism, where the idea of living for the moment and having fun was more appreciated.
In Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May, three women are seen literally gathering flowers (obviously a symbol.) The most defined two women in the front are dressed in loose gowns, hanging off the shoulders, and they most likely aren’t married. They are spending their time picking flowers, showing that they don’t have too many responsibilities at this point in life. Although they are supposed to be enjoying themselves, it seems like their faces are structured very seriously and perfectly. Waterhouse also makes great use of color and perspective, and the painting is very bright. The trees are getting smaller the more distant they are and the woman in the back is also less visible. The branches of the flower bush are very distinct, as well as the colors on every single little flower bud. You can see ripples in the water and every ruffle on the women’s dresses.
Although Robert Herrick’s poem was not taken seriously during his time, Waterhouse brings it back in a vivid painting portraying the ideals of the 1900s.