“Carpe diem” is a Latin phrase that means “pluck the day” or “seize the day”. It encourages people to focus on the present, appreciate the value of every moment in life. In literature “Carpe Diem” remains an enduring rhetorical device, especially in poetry. The Roman poet Horace has the credit of using the phrase for the first time in his “Odes.” In this long series of poems composed in 65 B.C.E., he writes “time is envious and/is running away from us. / Seize the day, trusting/little in the future.”
There are many poets who have responded to this sentiment by using “living in the moment” in different contexts. Even before Horace has used the phrase, the sentiment was expressed at the close of the poem “De rosis nascentibus,” attributed to both Ausonius and Virgil. The poet says “collige, virgo, rosas” which means “gather, girl, the roses.” He encourages the young woman to enjoy life and the freedom of youth before it passes.
Carpe Diem poems aim to instruct the readers or make them understand/celebrate the present than focusing on the past or future. Often used in Love poems, it encourages the lovers/beloved to live the moments at hand, even by breaking the laws, as in Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” and many other poems.
15 Best Carpe Diem Poems
- 1 ‘Carpe Diem‘ by Robert Frost
- 2 ‘To His Coy Mistress‘ by Andrew Marvell
- 3 ‘Be Drunk‘ by Charles Baudelaire
- 4 ‘To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time‘ by Robert Herrick
- 5 ‘The Flea‘ by John Donne
- 6 ‘A Song On the End of the World‘ by Czeslaw Milosz
- 7 ‘I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl‘ by Emily Dickinson
- 8 ‘Spring and Fall: To a young child‘ by Gerard Manley Hopkins
- 9 ‘Vita Summa Brevis’ by Ernest Dowson
- 10 ‘You Can’t Have It All’ by Barbara Ras
- 11 ‘O Me! O Life!‘ by Walt Whitman
- 12 ‘A Shropshire Lad 2: Loveliest of Trees, The Cherry Now’ By A. E. Housman
- 13 ‘Dreams‘ by Langston Hughes
- 14 ‘A Psalm of Life‘ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
- 15 ‘First Fig‘ by Edna St. Vincent Millay
‘Carpe Diem‘ by Robert Frost
‘Carpe Diem‘ has ‘Age’ personified and observes a young couple in love. The speaker does not address them personally but he wishes for them happiness in their lives: “Be happy, happy, happy, / And seize the day of pleasure.” He also acknowledges that people focus more on the future because “The present is too much for the senses, to crowding, too confusing-too present to imagine”.
Age saw two quiet children
Go loving by at twilight,
He knew not whether homeward,
Or outward from the village,
Or (chimes were ringing) churchward,
He waited, (they were strangers)
Till they were out of hearing
To bid them both be happy.
“Be happy, happy, happy,
And seize the day of pleasure.”
Read more Robert Frost poems.
‘To His Coy Mistress‘ by Andrew Marvell
In this metaphysical poem ‘To His Coy Mistress’ by Andrew Marvell, the speaker trying to persuade his lover that they should take their relationship further for he hasn’t all the time in the world. His mistress seems to be a shy woman that she is hesitant and resists going by his wish. Thus, he in turn explains that if he had all the time world, he could spend centuries admiring her beauty and her innocence, also will have no problem with their relationship moving this slowly.
Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day
Explore more Andrew Marvell poems.
‘Be Drunk‘ by Charles Baudelaire
‘Be Drunk,’ is one of the short prose poems published by Charles Baudelaire in his 1869 collection. In this poem, he encourages the reader to become intoxicated by something – Wine, poetry or virtue, or anything. In his optimistic view of life, he considers that life can be lived to the fullest when one is doing the things one enjoys.
You have to be always drunk. That’s all there is to it–it’s the
only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks
your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually
But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be
Discover more Charles Baudelaire poems.
‘To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time’ deals with the ephemerality of life. As pictured in the title the speaker of the poem wants the young women of his poems to seize the day. He wants young women to make the best of their beauty and passion while they are young. For life wouldn’t be the same when they are past their prime.
Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
Read more Robert Herrick poems.
‘The Flea‘ by John Donne
‘The Flea’ is used as a metaphor in the poem to express the speaker’s desire to have physical intimacy. The flea bites both the speaker and his beloved. Quoting the blood merged inside the Flea, the speaker encourages his beloved to have a pre-marital relationship. The poem begins with the speaker’s disappointment over his beloved denial of taking their relationship forward, for she believes losing virginity outside of marriage will result in sin, shame, and dishonor.
Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is;
It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be;
Thou know’st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead,
Explore more John Donne poems.
‘A Song On the End of the World‘ by Czeslaw Milosz
‘A Song On the End of the World’ describes the activities of people and animals on a day that the narrator claims is the end of the world. The speaker tells his audience that the people do not think of the world going to end but live their life as if they are going to live forever except the old man.
On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.
Read more poems from Czeslaw Milosz.
‘I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl‘ by Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson’s ‘I tie my Hat—I crease my Shawl’ examines how people circumscribe themselves, choosing to perform the minutia of daily life. Using the woman’s daily chores analogy, the poet tells how people drag on doing mundane things before fulfilling life’s greater purpose. She feels the life between birth and death as miles and miles of nothingness.
Therefore — we do life’s labor —
Though life’s Reward — be done —
With scrupulous exactness —
To hold our Senses — on —
Read more Emily Dickinson poems.
‘Spring and Fall: To a young child‘ by Gerard Manley Hopkins
The poem ‘Spring and Fall: To a young child’ deals with the innocence of the springtime and the decaying effect of the Fall through the child’s emotions. Beginning with a question to a child: “Margaret, are you grieving / Over Goldengrove unleaving?” the poet deals with an emotional crisis the girl faces when confronted with the fact of death and decay that the falling leaves represent. But, he does not try to comfort her, for he knows that life’s bitter truth is beyond her level of understanding.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
Explore more Gerard Manley Hopkins poems.
‘Vita Summa Brevis’ by Ernest Dowson
In this undeniably beautiful poem, Dowson deals with the brevity of life and human emotions. The title is written in Latin “Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam” which tells how this brevity of life prevents human beings from planning long-term events. Life, like a dream, ends shortly before one could gauge what is really happening. U fortunately, it was a truth that came true in Dowson’s life.
They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.
Discover more Ernest Dowson poems.
‘You Can’t Have It All’ by Barbara Ras
Barbara Ras’s, ‘You Can’t Have It All’ is a simple poem that speaks about everything that is incredible and poignant about life. It creates a dreamland where one visits the past when the present is not a pleasant one. At the same time, it also emphasizes the fact of life that is one cannot be everywhere and life goes on.
you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond
of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas
your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.
There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother’s,
it will always whisper, you can’t have it all,
but there is this.
Whitman, in this poem ‘O Me! O Life!’, explores the transcendental philosophy of existence. He comments on the futility of life as he ponders the “endless trains of the faithless.” For he was betrayed by many who disappointed his expectations. As he observes life, he sees many people who are as foolish as him with their expectations. He admonishes himself for being no better than them.
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
Read more Walt Whitman poetry.
‘A Shropshire Lad 2: Loveliest of Trees, The Cherry Now’ By A. E. Housman
E. Housman in his ‘A Shropshire Lad 2: Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now’ speaks of the transience of life, pastoral beauty, death, and fleeting nature of time. The speaker reflects on the lovely sights of Cherry trees, whose beauty made him think of all the beautiful things in the world.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
Discover more A. E. Housman poems.
‘Dreams‘ by Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes encourages his readers to hold fast to their desires and goals in this short and powerful poem. He emphasizes having dreams. For without them, man could only feel nothingness and life become a bleak and hopeless noise. Through his choice of metaphors: “broken-winged bird” and “a barren and frozen field” and the repetition of the phrase “Hold fast to dreams” Hughes insists his readers understand the importance of having dreams in life.
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
Explore more Langston Hughes poems.
‘A Psalm of Life’ was inspired by a conversation between Longfellow and a fellow professor. The spirit of carpe diem is captured in the poem through the speaker’s declaration of living in the present than the austere and restrained life the Psalmist champions. According to the speaker, life’s purpose is to make good out of everything one does, as a part of its journey, for life flees.
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
“Life is but an empty dream!”
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Discover more Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poems.
Edna St. Vincent Millay’s ‘First Fig’ speaks about life’s futility when one tries to make both ends meet. The short poem explains how life becomes shorter when a person has to carry the burden of life alone. Still, the speaker wants to make the best out of this short life by seizing the day.
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends–
It gives a lovely light.
Read more Edna St. Vincent Millay poems.