The phrase “carpe diem” is a powerful Latin phrase, that when translated into English means “seize the day.” Themes of “carpe diem” were predominant in seventeenth century poetry, and this can be seen in the two poems, “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time,” by Robert Herrick and “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell.
Robert Herrick’s, “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” is a popular poem in British literature, that professes a common universal moral. The first two lines read, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old time is still a-flying.” Herrick wrote these opening lines of imagery in order make it clear that he is concentrating on those in the prime of their life. The rosebud symbolizes the youthful person, because like a rosebud, a young person has not yet experienced life to its fullest. The following lines are, “And this same flower that smiles today, Tomorrow will be dying.” Again, the youth is compared to the flower. However, now Herrick has begun to focus in on the idea of death. This is where the poem starts to reveal the theme. The next four lines speak of the swift rise and fall of the sun in its daily course. Herrick is used this image in order for his readers to really grasp the concept of just how quickly life passes by.
The next few lines are extremely straightforward, “The age is best which is the first, When youth and blood are warmer:” The words here speak for themselves. Herrick is saying that our youth is the best part of our life when we are full of energy. The last four lines of the poem read “Then be not coy, but use your time, And while ye may, go marry; For having lose but once your prime,You may forever tarry.” Herrick uses these last four lines as a brief summary of the entire poem, he is warning the youth not to waste their time. Take the time and youth you are given and create happiness and joy in your life. However, be wise because once it is all gone, it is lost and gone forever. This clarifying the predominant theme of making the most of our youth and life, and in other words, to seize the day.
The second poem is Andrew Marvell’s ” To His Coy Mistress.” The poem is narrated by a young man heated with passion who is speaking to his mistress. The poem begins, “Had we but world enough, and time, This coyness, lady, were no crime.” The beginning of this poem immediately sets its reader off with a sense of urgency. The opening lines immediately draw you into a story of something that must happen right now with the idea that there is no time to waste. The following lines are mainly about how deep the speakers love runs and the lengths to which he would go for his lady. He speaks of how he would take the time it took to build empires in order to praise every part of her body.
Next, the speaker alarms his reader with that same sense of urgency felt in the first two lines. In lines 21 and 22, he says, “But at my back, I always hear, Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.” Marvell delivers this second burst of urgency at this particular part of the poem in order to secure in the readers thoughts the importance of time. Time is a part of our lives that we never have enough of, it constantly speeds us up or slows us down. The next several lines bring the reader to reality with the poem as Marvell introduces death for the first time.
“And your quaint honor turn to dust, And into ashes all my lust, The grave’s a fine and private place, But none, I think, do there embrace.” Here, Marvell is explaining that all emotions are important now, while they are still alive. He is trying to deliver the message that they must make something of their time and love while they are still alive to do it. In the following stanza, the speaker begins his plan against time, as if it were his enemy. He says, “And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour Than languish in his slow-chapped power.” The speaker refers to “him” as time in a negative way, because he feels as though time is a negative force against him. The next four lines refer to the speaker and his mistress pulling together to fight time as he says, “Let us roll our strength and all, Our sweetness up into one ball, And tear our pleasures with rough strife, Through the iron gates of life:” At this point in the poem the speaker has almost declared war on time in an effort to gather their strengths together in order to fight it.
The last lines of the poem read, “Thus, though we cannot make our sun, Stand still, yet we will make him run.” Obviously the speaker is determined to fight time with such strength and speed that even the sun will have to catch up to their love. The theme of “carpe diem” is clearly apparent, at the end of the poem, when it sounds as though the speaker will practically go to war over seizing the day in order to have time with his mistress.
Both poems go into great depth over the struggle of time. They both highlight how one must not only fight for the time they have, but also touch up on how time is so easily lost. Both poems make an effort to convince the reader that time is precious, and not something to be wasted. They both deliver a straightforward message to the reader to make the most out of time because it is irreplaceable, therefore you must sieze the day.