“Seize the Day”

A Collection of Classic Poems on the Passage of Time

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The Latin phrase carpe diem—usually expressed in English as “seize the day” although its literal translation is “pluck the day” or “pick the day” as in gathering flowers—originates in the Odes of Horace (Book 1, No. 11):

carpe diem quam minimum credula postero
Seize the day and put no trust in the future

The sentiment carries with it an awareness of the passage of time, the fleeting nature of life, and the approach of death and decay, and its exhortation to take hold of the present moment, make the most of the time we have, and live life fully has resonated down the centuries in many poems. Here are a few of the classics:

  • Horace,
    Ode 11 from Book I of the Odes of Horace (23 B.C.),
    three translations into English, by Sir Thomas Hawkins (1625), Christopher Smart (1756) and John Conington (1863)
  • Samuel Daniel,
    Another Song from Tethys Festival — “Are They Shadows?” (1610)
  • William Shakespeare,
    “Carpe Diem” from Twelfth Night (1623)
  • Thomas Jordan,
    Coronemus nos Rosis antequam marcescant—Let us drink and be merry” (1637)
  • Robert Herrick,
    “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time” (1648)
  • Andrew Marvell,
    “To His Coy Mistress” (1681)
  • John Gay,
    Air from The Beggar’s Opera — “Youth’s the Season” (1728)
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
    A Psalm of Life” (1839)
  • Charles Baudelaire,
    “Intoxication” (1869)
  • Ella Wheeler Wilcox,
    Arise” (1872)
  • William Ernest Henley,
    “O Gather Me the Rose” (1874)
  • Ernest Dowson,
    “Vitæ Summa Brevis Spem nos Vetat Incohare Longam” (1896)
  • A.E. Housman,
    “Loveliest of trees, the cherry now” (1896)
  • Sara Teasdale,
    Barter” (1917)
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay,
    “First Fig” (1920)
  • Robert Frost,
    “Carpe Diem” (1923)