carpe diem

carpe diem

[kahr-pe dee-em; Eng. kahr-pee dahy-uhm, kahr-pey dee-uhm]
carpe diem, a descriptive term for literature that urges readers to live for the moment [from the Latin phrase "seize the day," used by Horace]. The theme, which was widely used in 16th- and 17th-century love poetry, is best exemplified by a familiar stanza from Robert Herrick's "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time":
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
Shakespeare's version of the theme takes the following form in Twelfth Night:
What is love? 'Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth has present laughter;
  What's to come is still unsure.
In delay there lies no plenty,
Then come and kiss me sweet and twenty;
  Youth's a stuff will not endure.

Carpe diem is a phrase from a Latin poem by Horace (See section below). It is popularly translated as "seize the day". The general definition of carpe is "pick, pluck, pluck off, gather" as in plucking or picking a rose or apple, although Horace uses the word in the sense of "enjoy, make use of, seize.

Meaning of the phrase

One interpretation of the phrase might be as an existential cautionary term, much like "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die," with emphasis on making the most of current opportunities because life is short and time is fleeting. It has some connections with another Latin phrase, Memento mori.

Related expressions

Evoking some of the same meaning is the expression, "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die," which derives from Biblical verses (such as Isaiah, although it does not carry the same connotations in context. ), and which occurs many times in modern English-language popular culture.

The phrase non-collige virgo rosas ("gather, girl, the roses") appears at the end of the poem De rosis nascentibus (also called Idyllium de rosis'') attributed to Ausonius or Virgil. It encourages youth to enjoy life before it's too late.

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 the Epic of Gilgamesh, Siduri attempts to dissuade Gilgamesh in his quest for immortality, urging him to enjoy life as it is: "As for you, Gilgamesh, fill your belly with good things; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man."

In the Ecclesiastes (9,7-9):

7 Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works.
8 Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment.
9 Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun.

Horace himself parodies the phrase in another of his poems, 'The town mouse and the country mouse'. He uses the phrase carpe viam meaning 'seize the road' to compare the two different attitudes to life of a person (or in this case, a mouse) living in a city and in the countryside.

Influence in Culture

Horace's influence is widespread in western culture as the Greek and Roman "Classics" were part of the everyday pedagogy of prep schools, many universities and colleges, until they gradually began to decline in emphasis and university influence during the early twentieth century, when institutions of learning had to cope with the plethora of new subjects generated by advances in industry, the sciences, and research in the humanities. Latin and Greek language instruction, which were for centuries core fundamentals universally taught, which practices fell to the wayside save for the science naming needs of science and medicine, and so too did studies in the Classics, which became the narrow specialty field now usually known as Classical studies.

In literature

  • In Darkly Dreaming Dexter the title character Dexter mistakenly translates carpe diem as meaning complain in daylight.
  • This idea was popular among 16th and 17th-century poets. French poet Pierre de Ronsard for example, who wrote Cueillez dès aujourd'hui les roses de la vie (Sonnets pour Hélène, 1578), or Robert Herrick, whose To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time begins with "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may".
  • 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.
  • In Shakespeare's Hamlet (act V scene ii), Hamlet observes that "There's a divinity that shapes our ends," and says a few words about how fate is inescapable. He concludes that "the readiness is all." In other words, a person should act now, or seize the moment, whether it seems favorable or not. As Horace says, we should not subject ourselves to augury.
  • Carpe diem is also used to denote the theme of Christopher Marlowe's The Passionate Shepherd to His Love.
  • Saul Bellow's novella Seize the Day deals with this idea of living for the moment vs. worrying about the future.
  • The phrase inspired the title of Terry Pratchett's 1998 book Carpe Jugulum.
  • The poem, To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell is another example of Romantic carpe diem poetry.
  • Title of a story by Argentinian writer Abelardo Castillo in the volume "Las maquinarias de la noche" (1992).
  • Robert Frost wrote a poem entitled "Carpe Diem" considering but ultimately rejecting the idea.
  • The title of the Dean Koontz novel Seize the Night is derived from the phrase.
  • In the book "Herman Herraidersonns Big Adventure" the main character's sidekick "Action Jackson" uses Carpe Diem as his catchphrase. The word appears a total of 12 times throughout the 30 page book for children.
  • In the book "Wise Children" by post-modernist Angela Carter carpe diem is a widely repeated moral of the protagonists Dora and Nora and their Grandmother.

In movies

  • "Carpe diem! Seize the day, boys! Make your lives extraordinary!" was used in the hit movie Dead Poets Society by Robin Williams's character, a film that explores the idea of carpe diem from the viewpoint of a classroom of young men at an all-boys boarding school, and is ranked #95 in AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes.
  • The phrase also appears, albeit less prominently, in a number of other movies, such as Clueless, Torque, Waiting..., Newsies, and Out Cold.
  • In the 2003 Oscar winning short film Harvie Krumpet, Harvie, struggling against a series of unfortunate events, feels compelled to change his life after encountering the words beneath a statue of Horace.
  • In the movie Roxanne, Steve Martin elaborates on the phrase.
  • One of the gang members from the movie Death Sentence has a tattoo on his neck that says Carpe Diem.
  • In "The Ron Clark Story" Carpe Diem is one of Ron Clarks essential 55 rules for success in school.
  • In the movie "Out Cold," Pigpen says, "Carpe Diem... seize the carp"

In music


  • A variation of the phrase, carpe viam ("seize the road"), is the motto of the online running club Dead Runners Society.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Homer the Vigilante" Jimbo Jones is seen spray painting carpe diem on the wall
  • A Charmed episode named "Carpe Demon" introduces a demon that has little time to live, and, in essence, is not worried about the future.
  • In the Buffy The Vampire Slayer episode Welcome to the Hellmouth Buffy tells Willow 'Carpe diem' Buffy then goes on to explain that she should seize the day because 'tomorrow you might be dead.'
  • An Angel (TV Series) episode named "Carpe Noctem (Angel episode)"" showed Angel's body stolen by an old man who wanted to relive his youth indefinitely via the souled vampire
  • In The Critic episode "Sherman, Women and Child" Jeremy tells Jay "carpe canem" which means "seize the dog"
  • On the World Wrestling Entertainment Pay-Per-View SummerSlam 2007, professional wrestler Triple H had the phrase displayed on the screen above his TitanTron video.
  • In Dawson's Creek, Andie and Jack's father owns a boat called Carpe Diem.
  • There is a Flying Spaghetti Monster spoof of the phrase: "carbo diem", possibly related to carbohydrate.
  • In the Garth Ennis series The Boys (comic book), Hughie exclaims "Carpe Bloody Diem, Boy" after getting up the nerves to ask Starlight out on a date.
  • In Nintendo's Animal Crossing, when a Crucian Carp is Fished out of the water it reads "Carpe diem!"
  • The most famous Greek Graffiti magazine is called 'Carpe Diem'
  • On the television show South of Nowhere the character Aiden in response to buying a new motorcycle replies "carpe diem right?" which is followed by a paraphrase of the saying as he leaves school "carpe later".
  • Australian cricketer Michael Clarke has Carpe Diem tattoed on his left forearm.
  • Carpe Diem is the official motto of Montclair State University.
  • On the Fuse TV show "Whitest Kids U Know" in a sketch involving Sam after getting killed with a nailgun and brought back to life he exclaims "Carpe diem, carpe diem!" to which the father replies "Hey! That's Latin!", comically arousing his suspicion of wrongdoing in his household.
  • In a season 2 episode of King of the Hill, Peggy says Carpe Diam with her Spanish accent despite the phrase being Latin.
  • Is the song when a try is scored during Superleague and has been used during their Sky coverage. It has as been used in the credits as well as when teams score a try. The song is by Edrenalin.
  • In the series Eureka (sci-fi ) there is a restaurant with the name "cafe diem"
  • In the movie Mrs Doubtfire, Robin Williams quips "carpe dentum" as he is trying to retrieve his false teeth that fall into his drink.
  • In Posiedon; Nelson speaks "Carpe Diem" at dinner before he tells his friends about the break-up between himself and his significant other over a 5,000 dollar bottle of wine.


Original usage from Odes 1.11, in Latin and English:

Tu ne quaesieris, scire nefas, quem mihi, quem tibi Leuconoe, don't ask — it's a sin 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. It is better to endure whatever will be.
seu pluris hiemes seu tribuit Iuppiter ultimam, Whether Jupiter has allotted to you many more winters or this final one
quae nunc oppositis debilitat pumicibus mare which even now wears out the Tyrrhenian sea on the rocks placed opposite
Tyrrhenum: sapias, vina liques et spatio brevi — be smart, drink your wine. Scale back your long hopes
spem longam reseces. dum loquimur, fugerit invida to a short period. While we speak, envious time will have {already} fled
aetas: carpe diem quam minimum credula postero. Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future.


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