Carpe diem

From New World Encyclopedia

Carpe diem, usually translated as "seize the day" (literally, “pluck the day”), is an expression found in a Latin poem by Horace (Odes 1.11).

Carpe Diem is an exhortation to value the moment over the uncertainties of future plans. It can be understood as a statement that encourages one to enjoy hedonistic pleasures, rather than investing one’s efforts towards attaining an ideal or preparing for the future. It can also be seen as an emphasis on the value of each moment, expressing appreciation for the opportunities found in every day. Indirectly, this can also be seen as an encouragement to wisely accept and adapt to whatever the present moment may bring.

Horace’s verses

Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi Leuconoe, don't ask—it's forbidden to know—
finem di dederint, Leuconoe, nec Babylonios what end the gods will give me or you. Don't play with Babylonian
temptaris numeros. ut melius, quidquid erit, pati. fortune-telling either. Better just deal with whatever comes your way.
seu pluris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam, Whether you'll see several more winters or whether the last one
quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare Jupiter gives you is the one even now pelting the rocks on the shore with the waves
Tyrrhenum: sapias, vina liques et spatio brevi of the Tyrrhenian sea—be smart, drink your wine. Scale back your long hopes
spem longam reseces. dum loquimur, fugerit invida to a short period. Even as we speak, envious time
aetas: carpe diem quam minimum credula postero. is running away from us. Seize the day, for in the future you can believe the minimum.


In spite of its Epicurean and hedonistic connotations, the expression also has a link to Old Testament wisdom literature, notably Ecclesiastes, including the famous passage of 3:1-9, beginning with “For everything there is a season,” and continuing with “there is a time to be born and a time to die… a time to weep and a time to laugh…” In this context, Carpe Diem would stand for a call to exert wisdom by taking each day as a gift from God, by accepting both the good and the bad, and being prepared for everything. Enjoying each day as it comes also implies a grateful heart on the part of the believer and a willingness to accept hardships when they come.

The phrase is often extended to explicitly mention the possibility of imminent death, as in "Seize the day, for tomorrow you may die."

Related expression

Related but distinct is the expression memento mori, "remember that you are mortal"; indeed, memento mori is often used with some of the sense of Carpe Diem. However, two major elements of memento mori are humility and repentance, neither of which figures prominently in the concept of carpe diem.

In literature

Along the same theme, and evoking some of the same imagery as the poem, is the expression "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die," which derives from Biblical verses (such as Isaiah 22:13), and which occurs many times in modern English-language popular culture.

  • This idea was popular in sixteenth and seventeenth-century English poetry, for example in Robert Herrick's To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time, which begins "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may". It is interesting to note that the following Chinese couplet attributed to a poetess in the Tang Dynasty, which has entered the realm of proverbs, strikingly resembles Herrick's line: "Pluck the flower when it has blossomed; don't wait until there are no flowers with only branches to break."
  • This theme is also recalled in the verses of English Victorian poet Tennyson, and in Andrew Marvell's famous To His Coy Mistress.
  • The 'O mistress mine' song sung by the clown in Act II, Scene iii of William Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night has been referred to as having the spirit of 'Carpe diem' in it because of the line 'Youth's a stuff will not endure', amongst others.
  • "Carpe diem" is also used to denote the theme of Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love".[1]
  • In the modern poem "You Would" by A. Kefalas, the phrase is used in reference to seizing the day: "Carpe diem, damnit."
  • Saul Bellow's Novella Seize the Day deals with this idea of living for the moment vs. worrying about the future.
  • The phrase "Carpe diem" inspired the title of Terry Pratchett's 1998 book Carpe Jugulum.[2]
  • Title of a story by Argentinian writer Abelardo Castillo in the volume "Las maquinarias de la noche," (1992).
  • In Joanne Harris's "Gentlemen and Players," the phrase is used such that a character probably thinks that "Carpe Diem" means a fish supper.
  • Carpe Diem is also implicit in Aesop’s famous fable on The Ant and the Grasshopper, where the grasshopper symbolizes the hedonistic and irresponsible interpretation of the expression. Aesop’s theme has reappeared in various pieces of modern literature, most famously in French poet Jean de La Fontaine’s seventeenth century version. It also appears in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.

On television

  • The phrase appears frequently on television; for example, it has been used in the shows Lost, The Simpsons, Sister Sister, The Gilmore Girls, among others.
  • The phrase "seize the day" also appears frequently; for example, it has been used in the shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer (as "Seize the day, for tomorrow you might be dead") and Grey's Anatomy.

In movies

  • "Carpe Diem! Seize the day, lads! Make your lives extraordinary!" was used in the hit movie, "Dead Poets Society," a film that explores the idea of "Carpe Diem" from the viewpoint of a classroom of young men at an all boys boarding school. It is said by Robin Williams' character, Professor Keating, in the hope that the students will learn to do what they want to do. The film explores the various ways in which the students seize the day and the consequences they face.
  • The phrase also appears, albeit less prominently, in a number of other movies, such as Clueless, Torque, and Waiting....


Carpe Diem also appears frequently in musical compositions and in a variety of very different settings, e.g., as the name of organizations ranging from entertainment to charity work all over the world.


  1. C. Marlowe. V. The Passionate Shepherd to His Love. Retrieved September 20, 2007.
  2. Terry Pratchett. Carpe Jugulum. Retrieved September 20, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Baggini, Julian. What's it all about? Philosophy and the meaning of life. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 9780195300086.
  • Horace. Odes I: Carpe diem. David Alexander West (ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. ISBN 9780198721604.
  • Feldman, Fred. Pleasure and the good life: concerning the nature, varieties and plausibility of hedonism. Oxford New York: Clarendon Press, 2004. ISBN 019926516X
  • Pockell, Leslie. The 100 best poems of all time. New York: Warner Books, 2001. ISBN 0446676810 (includes Robert Herrick’s To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time).

External Links

All links retrieved November 28, 2023.


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