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The idea of Carpe Diem originated from a poem called “Ode” by Horace. In the poem, the author is attempting to convince his lover not to worry about what the future holds for them because time may be very hard to find. He continues to explain that it is a waste of time to talk about when or where they may die, instead, they should enjoy the day by drinking wine. “Be wise, strain your wines, and because of brief life cut short long-term hopes” (“Translation: Odes”). The author’s view on life’s purpose are made clear in his works and positive outlook. Throughout Horace’s writing, he is claiming there is no promises that something will happen and each day should be enjoyed as if it were your last, “Much better it is whatever will be to endure, whether more winters Jupiter has allotted or the last,” (“Translation: Odes”). Horace captures the idea of “seizing the day” and is enjoyed by worrying “as little as possible” about the future.
Andrew Marvell, author of “To His Coy Mistress,” had a slightly skewed opinion of the phrase “seize the day” compared to Horace. Reading this poem, Marvell is trying to persuade a lady to “seize the day” by having sex with him. He begins by complimenting her good looks. He says, “Had we but world enough and time. This coyness, lady, were no crime”. The author is explaining to his lover that if he had more time, he would have opportunity to devote himself to her. He continues to argue that they must act soon, because they will not be young and beautiful forever. After the first group of lines in Marvell’s poem, he claims his affection for her and says, “My vegetable love should grow vaster than empires and slower”. As the tone of the poem changed, the author says he is going to see his lover die a virgin, “That long-preserved virginity, and your quaint honour turn to dust”. Within the final group of lines in the poem, Marvell finishes his argument with the humorous comment, “The grave’s a fine and private place, but none, I think, do there embrace” . In an almost dark, yet humorous way, the author is trying to convince this woman that they will not live forever and they should “seize the day” and act on their (his) sexual desires.
John Donne wrote a similar poem to Andrew Marvell’s work called, “The Flea,” where the author also tries to convince a lady to make love to him and “seize the day”. The author points out a flea on the wall to the woman he loves. This pest has bitten both of them. Donne explains that this means their blood is mixed inside the flea, “It sucked me first, and now suck thee, and in this flea our two bloods mingled be”. He says no one would think about it as a sin for their bodily fluid to mix inside of a bug, in other words, he is suggesting they have sex. Now she sensibly goes to kill the flea, but the author stops her. He says the flea represents the life as a married couple, “Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare, where we almost, nay more than married are”. The author proceeds to tell her that killing the flea, means she is killing herself, the author, and sinning against the foundation of marriage. “This flea is you, I, and this. Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is”. She kills the flea “cruel and sudden,” he says. Thinking she has proved his accusations false, he says, “Tis true; then learn how false, fear be: just so much honor, when thou yield to me. Will waste, as this flea’s death took like from thee”.
“To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” by Robert Herrick encourages virgins to “seize the day” and take advantage of their youth. He tells them that, like a rose, their beauty is short-lived, and they should make the most of it while they can, “Gather ye rose-buds while ye may”. The author tells the virgins that their youth only lasts for a short time, “That age is best which is the first, when youth and blood are warmer,” and they should marry soon “And while ye may, go marry,”. Unlike many Carpe Diem poems, Herrick is not suggesting his readers should sleep with any man or woman that catches your eye. Herrick warns virgins that time will march on whether they want it to or not, so they might as well enjoy the best years of their lives, “For having lost but once your prime, you may forever tarry”. In the end of the poem, the author advises individuals who have never had sexual relations to marry, and incorporates the Carpe Diem theme with the idea that individuals should “seize the day” with passion through marriage.
Charles Baudelaire continues the theme of Carpe Diem with his poem, “Be Drunk.” In this modern poem, Baudelaire encourage his audience to become drunk by something. Many people may argue he is suggesting being drunk because of how hard it is to deal with the unpleasant situations in our daily life, “So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that break your back and bend you to the earth, you must be continually drunk”. The author hints that we should search for something that is impossible to stop doing or using, and continues to encourage his readers to be drunk by things that excite them. “But on what?” When you get swept away doing something you enjoy or that excites you, you forget about time. You do not think about anything that besides the present moment and the happiness you feel. “Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk,” (Baudelaire, 2016). In one of the last lines of the poem, Baudelaire tells the audience to find ways of being “drunk” on or by something or someone, every day to make life more enjoyable. “And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling. Everything that is singing, everything that is speaking… ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: “It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! One wine, on poetry or on virtue, as you wish,”.
Carpe Diem is a theme that has lasted throughout time. People have used the popular expression as an excuse for bad behavior and motivation to do great things. The question is not whether we should “seize the day,” but if will we rise to the intent of the original meaning.
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