make hay while the sun shines


make hay while the sun shines (proverb)
/meɪk heɪ waɪl ðə sʌn ʃaɪnz/


  • to take advantage of a good situation or opportunity while it lasts.
  • act quickly when conditions are favorable to achieve the best outcome.
  • utilize a current opportunity to achieve something beneficial.

The phrase literally refers to cutting and drying hay when the weather is sunny and conducive to such activities in agriculture.

Example Sentences

  1. You have free time this summer. Make hay while the sun shines and learn a new skill.
  2. The market is booming right now, so we should make hay while the sun shines and invest in stocks.
  3. The travel agency is offering excellent discounts this week. Let’s make hay while the sun is shining and book our vacation.
  4. A new job opening just came up at the company you’ve always wanted to work for. Make hay while the sun shines and apply now.
  5. It’s a beautiful day outside after a week of rain. Let’s make hay while the sun shines and go for a picnic.

Origin and History

Deeply rooted in agricultural practices, the proverb “make hay while the sun shines” has evolved over centuries to become a metaphorical expression in the English language. Its origins are primarily traced back to the need for farmers to harvest and dry hay during periods of good weather, a practice crucial for ensuring that livestock had sufficient feed during the winter months.

Historical Agricultural Roots

Making hay literally entails cutting grass and allowing it to dry in the sun before storing it. This process is highly dependent on weather conditions, as rain can spoil the hay, making it unusable as animal feed. Thus, farmers needed to take full advantage of sunny days to complete this task, leading to the proverb’s literal meaning: take action while conditions are favorable. This necessity is reflected in many cultures with similar sayings that emphasize the importance of timely action in agriculture.

Early Recorded Use

The phrase was first recorded in English in the early 16th century. It appeared in John Heywood’s collection of proverbs, ‘A Dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the Prouerbes in the Englishe tongue,’ published in 1546. Heywood’s work includes the line: “Whan the sunne shinth make hay,” which underscores the proverb’s longstanding usage and its early adoption into the English language.

Cultural and Biblical Influences

Although the Bible does not contain the exact phrase, there are suggestions that biblical texts may have influenced the idea behind the proverb. Proverbs 10:5 in the Bible states, “He that gathereth in summer is a wise son: but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame,” which conveys a similar sentiment about the importance of seizing the right moment for action.

Medieval Europe

The practice of making hay was a critical task in medieval European farming communities. Farmers relied on simple weather predictions and had to work diligently during periods of favorable weather to secure their winter feed. The unpredictability of weather made it essential to utilize every sunny day to its fullest. This practical necessity solidified the phrase within agricultural and eventually common usage, emphasizing the broader metaphor of taking advantage of favorable circumstances in various aspects of life.

Metaphorical Extension

Over time, the proverb extended beyond its agricultural origins to a metaphorical expression advising people to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. It became synonymous with the idea of not procrastinating and making the most of favorable situations. Its first figurative use in the 17th century, when it described seizing opportunities in non-farming contexts, clearly illustrates this transition.

Global Variations

The proverb has equivalents in many cultures, each reflecting local agricultural practices and emphasizing the universal wisdom of timely action. For example, the Spanish saying “No dejes para mañana lo que puedas hacer hoy” (Don’t leave for tomorrow what you can do today) carries a similar message. In China, the proverb “Mend your roof when it’s sunny” also highlights the importance of preparation during good times.

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