“The phrase “carpe diem,” from a quote by Horace, means “seize the day,” and is often used to describe persuasive poetry designed to convince the object of the poet’s desire to make love—for time is short, as the argument goes, and anything might happen. Other arguments range from the existential to the absurd, and poets make their points persistently in an astounding variety of ways, using every metrical and technical device to show off their wit and prowess. Perhaps the most famous example is Robert Herrick’s poem, “To the Virgins, Make Much of Time” where he begins, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” Another famous example is Andrew Marvell’s argument in “To His Coy Mistress,”
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp’d power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
The form has inspired both imitations and satires. In reply to Christopher Marlowe’s shepherd, who begged his nymph to “Come live with me and be my love,” Sir Walter Raleigh let his nymph knowingly reply:
If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every shepherd’s tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move
To live with thee and be thy love.
The companion piece to the carpe diem poem might well be the aubade, a form in which the poet begs his lover to stay in bed and mourns the rising of the sun because it means that they must part. John Donne’s poem, “The Sun Rising,” is one of the earliest examples:
Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us?”