Friday, April 29, 2011

Carpe Diem--Seize the Day

Carpe Diem or "seize the day!" or perhaps the more popular version: "Eat. drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die."

This philosophy? has been around for some time. The Latin version comes from Book 1 of Horace's Odes, published in 23 BC. However, it's been around a lot longer, and it's not the exclusive property of Europeans. I never thought much about it, but today, while browsing through a collection of poetry, I found this taken from the Chinese Book of Odes, compiled in the fifth century BC. Since the collection was compiled in the fifth century BC, we don't know how much earlier it was composed. In any case, here are several versions of the theme:

You Will Die

"You have coats and robes,
But you do not trail them;
You have chariots and horses.
But you do not ride them.
By and by you will die,
And another will enjoy them.

You have courtyards and halls,
But they are not sprinkled and swept;
You have bells and drums,
But they are not struck.
By and by you will die,
And another will possess them.

You have wine and food;
Why not play daily on your lute,
That you may enjoy yourself now
And lengthen your days?
By and by you will die,
And another will take your place."

-- Anon --
H. A. Giles, trans
from The World's Best Poems
Mark Van Doren and Garibaldi M. Lapolla, ed.

Horace's Odes, from Book 1

"Ask not ('tis forbidden knowledge), what our destined term of years,
Mine and yours; nor scan the tables of your Babylonish seers.
Better far to bear the future, my Leuconoe, like the past,
Whether Jove has many winters yet to give, or this our last;
This, that makes the Tyrrhene billows spend their strength against the shore.
Strain your wine and prove your wisdom; life is short; should hope be more?
In the moment of our talking, envious time has ebb'd away.
Seize the present; trust tomorrow e'en as little as you may."

Horace. The Odes and Carmen Saeculare of Horace. John Conington. trans. London. George Bell and Sons. 1882.

Quatrain LXXX

Yesterday, This Day's Madness did prepare:
To-morrow's Silence, Triumph, or Despair:
Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why:
Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where.

--Omar Khayyam--
The Rubaiyat, second edition
Trans. Edward FitzGerald

China, Rome, and Persia (by way of England)--seems fairly widespread to me. Perhaps some day I may come across versions from Africa and from the Australian Aborigines.


  1. Fred,

    Very true. As a 3 1/2 year cancer survivor, I try to follow this. Every day is a gift. Thanks for reminding us of this.

  2. Cheryl,

    It's difficult to remember when besieged by day-to-day details.