The carpe diem genre

In writing a short piece in BDN #46 about carpe diem — “seize the day” — I hadn’t realised there is a carpe diem genre! And that one of the pin-up boys of the CDG is the poet Robert Herrick (1591-1674).

Herrick wrote more than 2,500 poems. His predominant message is that life is short, the world is beautiful, love is splendid, and we must make the most of the short time we have. One of his best-known poems is “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time”, which, as BDN reader Jacquie reminded me, starts as follows:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.

The poem ends with an exhortation to the virgins to marry while they are in their “prime”. See .

Interestingly, Herrick never married, and lived to the ripe old age of 83.

Jacquie also sent me a copy of John Waterhouse’s painting “Gather ye Rosebuds” (1909). Many of Waterhouse’s works are in the “Pre-Raphaelite” style. I mentioned that the two women (presumably virgins) were unwise not to be wearing something on their feet while walking among roses — and indeed probably should have been wearing gardening gloves. But Jacquie advised me that fortunately in the Pre-Raphaelite world, nobody gets hurt by thorns or prickles.

(Later addition to this post)
A reader has sent another of John Waterhouse’s paintings, this one done a year earlier than the one above. Waterhouse clearly has a thing about roses and young women, although this young woman looks (so I’m told) somewhat less virginal than the two above.


About dazzlerplus

Writing about the things that interest me helps me to discover what I think. One of my loves is the Australian Outback, and I travel out there often, and when possible take friends with me.
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5 Responses to The carpe diem genre

  1. Jo says:

    Haha. In the great Aussie tradition of looking at the pictures before reading the text, my first thought was ‘What a lovely peaceful picture’. I could imagine the wet grass underfoot and smell the roses. Then I read the comment about thorns and prickles. It changes the whole thought process!!!

  2. Hi Rob,
    I’ve always been fond of the Persian slant on this particularly The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam who in the Fitzgerald translation exhorts us to “Fill the cup”. A Persian version of “Eat, drink and be merry…” no doubt. But the poem covers a lot of interesting territory.
    Anne Ludstrom

    • dazzlerplus says:

      This blog is doing wonders for my education! I’ve only ever had a very limited knowledge of The Rubaiyat, but your note prompted me to go to Mr Google and read up on it a bit. The words that I’ve been most familiar with are “a jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou”, which, particularly in my younger days, sounded like the sort of romantic idealism that I was never likely to encounter – particularly since the wine component had been placed off limits by my then understanding of how a good Christian should behave.

      And I used to think that anything Persian was about as exotic as you could get. I can remember reading about the city if Isfahan, the ancient capital of Persia, and wondering if I’d ever be able to visit there. It hasn’t happened yet!

      Wikipedia tells me that Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat is far from literal. If you’re interested in language, and hence in translation, you’d probably enjoy Douglas Hofstadter’s book “Le Ton Beau De Marot: In Praise Of The Music Of Language”. I found it absolutely fascinating. It talks a lot about the issues that arise in translating poetry.

  3. In our house The Rubaiyat was well known and I seized upon Nevil Shutes “Chequerboard” for the quotation on the first page as much as anything. Regarding “Fill the cup” Horace also said “Nunc est bibendum” but I don’t drink these days.

    But I find so many of the classic writers seem to bang their heads on the same philosophical problems that beset us all. You really can’t go past the Bible and Shakespeare for the questions. Not sure the answers are all that clear.

    “Carpe diem” wasn’t Horace’s only statement on the matter. “Omnen crede diem tibi diluxisse supremum” was another. Act as though every day was your last. I have highlighted it at age 17 in my Latin Dictionary.

    “Le Ton Beau De Marot” sounds fascinating as does the man. I must read it on my Kindle post haste!

    • dazzlerplus says:

      Thanks for your further contribution to the blog. It’s been encouraging to see it get some attention.

      The amount of Latin brought to light by the mention of ‘carpe diem’ has been quite remarkable! Did you see the suggested translations of ‘doona day’ in the post about “When seizing is too hard”? I have to confess I gave up on Latin after the Intermediate Certificate. I’d tried to memorise the English translation of a sizeable chunk of Caesar’s Gallic Wars, after finding that my ability at memorising vocab didn’t seem to be up to the alternate approach. You obviously did better – your use of a Latin dictionary at age 17 suggests you did Latin for the Leaving, and I assume got at least an “A”, if not honours. Of course, even the amount of Latin I did has been quite valuable in understanding the meanings of English words, and the lack of teaching of the classical languages in high schools today is in my view most regrettable.

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