Carpe Diem

William Shakespeare

‘Carpe Diem’ by William Shakespeare is a love song from Twelfth Night, sung by Feste the clown/fool. It’s about love and youth. 

William Shakespeare

Nationality: England

William Shakespeare is considered to be one of the most important English-language writers.

His plays and poems are read all over the world. 

Key Poem Information

Central Message: Life is short, one should embrace it while they have the chance

Themes: Aging, Love

Speaker: A man speaking to the woman he loves

Emotions Evoked: Passion

Poetic Form: Sestet

Time Period: 16th Century

This simple and inspiring love poem conveys a very relatable message on living life to the fullest

The song is quite short, only twelve lines total, and fairly direct. It does not employ some of the more obscure poetic language that Shakespeare is known for, due to the intentional informality of the entire proceeding. Feste was asked to sing a song on the spot and produced what is known as Carpe Diem.’ 

Carpe Diem
William Shakespeare

O mistress mine, where are you roaming?O stay and hear! your true-love's comingThat can sing both high and low;Trip no further, pretty sweeting,Journey's end in lovers' meeting—Every wise man's son doth know.

What is love? 'tis not hereafter;Present mirth hath present laughter;What's to come is still unsure:In delay there lies no plenty,—Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,Youth's a stuff will not endure.
Carpe Diem by William Shakespeare


‘Carpe Diem’ by William Shakespeare is an upbeat love poem found in the middle of the play Twelfth Night. 

The song, sung by Feste, is a love song divided into two stanzas. The poem entreats the speaker’s lover to come to them, kiss and embrace them, rather than ignoring the love they have in front of them and wasting time. Love and life are short, the speaker implores, and it’s better to make use of one’s youth and beauty before it fades. 

What Does “Carpe Diem” Mean? 

The Latin phrase “Carpe Diem” is translated to mean “seize the day,” and it is used as an exhortation to make the most of the present time. This saying has been attributed to the Roman poet Horace, who wrote in his work Odes: “Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero” or “Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future.” 

This phrase has become a timeless proverb that is often invoked in literature, films, and everyday life. Carpe Diem encourages readers to take control of their own lives, to not be held back by fear or hesitancy, and to live in the moment. By seizing the day, one can find joy, meaning, and purpose in life.

Literary Context 

Twelfth Night, one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, is a play that centers around mistaken identity, love triangles, and witty wordplay. It tells the story of Viola, a young woman who washes up on the shore of Illyria after a shipwreck. Believing her twin brother Sebastian to be dead, she disguises herself as a man named Cesario and finds employment with the Duke Orsino. The Duke is in love with Countess Olivia and has Viola act as a messenger between them. However, Viola has unknowingly fallen in love with the Duke, and so the plot thickens.

Feste is one of the main characters in Twelfth Night and the source of the poetic expert known today as ‘Carpe Diem.’ He speaks the lines of the poem in Act II Scene 3. Between the first and second stanzas, readers may be surprised to find additional lines, spoken by Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew. 

Feste is a jester or clown who provides comic relief throughout the play. He is employed by Olivia to provide entertainment for her house and often makes sly comments about the other characters’ foolishness. While Feste does not have a large role in the play, he does have some important moments when his observations about life or love make sense, and his words come true.

Structure and Form 

‘Carpe Diem’ by William Shakespeare is a two-stanza section of the much longer play, Twelfth Night. The two stanzas are six lines each, making them sestets. The poet chose to use a rhyme scheme of AABCCB in both stanzas, something that’s unusual for Shakespeare’s verse and certainly makes these lines stand out from those around them in the play. 

Literary Devices 

In this poem, the poet uses a few literary devices. They include:

  • Caesura: seen through intentional pauses in the middle of lines of verse. For example, “O stay and hear! your true-love’s coming.”
  • Rhetorical Question: a question the speaker asks but to which they do not expect to receive an answer. For example, “What is love?” in stanza two.
  • Figurative Langauge: the use of a particular type of poetic language. It’s seen several times throughout this poem, such as “Youth’s a stuff will not endure” as a reference to youth’s beauty.

Detailed Analysis 

Stanza One 

O mistress mine, where are you roaming?

O stay and hear! your true-love’s coming

That can sing both high and low;

Trip no further, pretty sweeting,

Journey’s end in lovers’ meeting—

Every wise man’s son doth know.

In the first stanza of this unique poem, the speaker refers to his lover, calling her “O mistress mine” after being prompted to sing a “love song” by Belch and Andrew. He sings the first stanza, the two other characters comment on it, and then he sings the second stanza. 

In the stanza, readers can find one of the most famous lines from any Shakespeare play that, today, is often used on its own. Shakespeare wrote “Journey’s end in lovers’ meeting.” Feste uses this line to try to stop his love, who he also calls “pretty sweeting” from going any further because her “true-love” is coming. 

He tells her to stay and listen to his song as it is an important one. He knows her true love can sing in beautiful tones and that it’s no use looking anymore because this is where “true lovers” meet and is her journey’s end. 

Stanza Two 

What is love? ’tis not hereafter;

Present mirth hath present laughter;

What’s to come is still unsure:

In delay there lies no plenty,—

Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,

Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

After getting some encouragement from Sir Toby Belch, who says ‘Good, good” and Sir Andrew, who says “Excellent good, i’ faith,” the Fool or clown, Feste, continues. 

In the second section of six lines, or sestet, he asks a rhetorical question, ‘What is love?” He tries to provide an answer, saying that it is not “hereafter,” or the future. It is a present joy that brings laughter and happiness. Love is not an assurance of what’s to come, he makes clear in the third line. 

He goes on, to say that it’s important not to delay as there is no reward or payback for wasting time. It’s important, he states, that his love “come kiss” him while she’s young and sweet, or “sweet and twenty.” Youth and beauty are not going to last forever, and they better make use of it while they have it. 

The two listeners compliment Feste on his performance in the next lines before they are interrupted. This section of the play is usually used as an example of the different relearns of performance that exists in Shakespeare’s world. The song Feste sang for them is quite different than the courtly performances that have also featured in the text. 


What is the theme of ‘Carpe Diem?’ 

The theme of this poem is love, followed by youth. Both of these are very common themes in Shakespeare’s writing, seen mostly in his sonnets. He implores readers in this poem not to waste their youth and embrace love while they have it. 

What is the tone of ‘Carpe Diem?’

The tone of his poem is pleading and passionate. The speaker is pleading with his lover to stop and pay attention to him and their love. If she wastes time, she’s going to get no reward. She should kiss him while they’re young and beautiful before time destroys what they have. 

What play is ‘Carpe Diem’ by William Shakespeare from? 

The poem ‘Carpe Diem’ is a two-stanza except from the comedy, Twelfth Night. It appears in Act II Scene 3. 

Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other William Shakespeare poems. For example: 

  • A Fairy Song’ – a short song that’s sung by a fairy and describes their work from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
  • All the world’s a stage– a well-known monologue found in William Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’. This speech of Jaques explores the seven ages of man and their implications.
  • Double, Double Toil and Trouble from Macbeth‘ – appears in the tragedy of ‘Macbeth’ by William Shakespeare. It is one of the “Song of the Witches” that appears in Act 4, Scene 1 of the play.

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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