For decades, humanity has adopted the philosophy of carpe diem. Since 23 B.C., a host of excellent literature authors have discussed the subject of carpe diem. Carpe diem is a concept that can be used in short stories, essays, lyrics, graduation addresses, and metaphysical writings. Carpe diem is a Latin phrase that means “seize the day” (carpe means to seize and diem means day). It represents the philosophy of living and loving life to the fullest without worrying about the future because tomorrow is not guaranteed and life is short. Carpe diem means to indulge the pleasures of the moment while obstructing and ignoring life’s true intent. The purpose of this essay is to prove that the carpe diem concept is against biblical principles of life. In as much as the Bible encourages us to seize the day, we must be smart enough to do things that are beneficial in our lives and have faith in the future. I will examine the purpose by exploring the manner in which the pessimistic view of religion and time has remained over time as the carpe diem purpose changed. Since its adoption in 23 B.C by Horace using “Ode”, to the view explained by in 1681 by Andrew Marvell through his poem “To His Coy Mistress” and the finale with an interpretation of the poem “Be Drunk” by Charles Baudelaire. In Winter Dreams, I will analyze the attempt of Dexter, a young man working extra hard to seize a romanticized view of being wealthy and prominent. Despite Dexter’s achievements, he realizes all he ever dreamed of was nothing but mere illusions of trying to fit in a different social class (Fitzgerald 2007). At the end of the essay, I will explain how carpe diem concept stands against Biblical teachings. I will achieve this by using biblical passages from Ecclesiastes, Ephesians and using the message from Kierkegaard a Christian philosopher.
In order to accomplish the goals stated on my purpose, I have divided the essay into three distinct segments. The first segment will deal with the evolution of carpe diem concept over time using poems of Horace, Charles Baudelaire, and Andrew Marvell. The second segment comprises of a rhetorical exploration of Winter Dreams by F. Scott Fitzgerald, an example of a short story utilizing the concept of seizing the day. The last part is an exploration of carpe diem perception in the current culture and from biblical passages.
In this essay, I will argue how the perception and purpose of carpe diem have changed throughout the years and based on the biblical view, carpe diem should not only rely on instant satisfaction or pleasures but on both enjoyment and achieving something useful in life, by using provided texts.
The notion of seizing the day has been embraced by people for a long time. With time passage, many philosophers, entrepreneurs, artists, and poets have studied this universe and personified its significance in numerous art expressions. Even though, the definition of carpe diem is still the same, slight variations of its interpretations have been witnessed in certain aspects. To comprehend the differences and similarities in its elucidation, the notion of time, purpose and religion, as shown in literary literature through the centuries must be analyzed. From Horace, the predecessor of carpe diem with Ode in 23 B.C, to the poem “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell first printed in 1681 and to an interpretation of Charles Baudelaire’s Be Drunk published in 1952. The three poems give us varied approaches of carpe diem at varied times of history.
The concept of carpe diem was born by Horace through the poem Ode. He was a prominent Roman poet who survived between 65-8 B.C (Arkins 258). In his poem Ode, Horace is counseling Leucone to adore life by having fun without fear of what the future holds because time is limited and must not be wasted talking of how or when death may catch up with them. Time and question should not be questioned (Arkins 261). From Horace perspective, living in the moment is more fulfilling than worrying about tomorrow. The view of Horace of purpose, religious and time in life is evident in his poem. Horace’s view of the future and time is pessimistic he says, “How much better it is to endure whatever will be whether Jupiter has altered more or the last”.
Additionally, Horace believed that the gods are untrustworthy. During ancient times, the Romans worshiped gods who were thought to be unfaithful and unpredictable. Therefore, the leery view of gods is clear when Horace says, “You should not ask, it is wrong to know, what end goals will have given to me or to you” As a result of Horace lack of trust in gods and time, he advises Leucone to utilize most of his time having fun and drinking wine.
During the 17th century, the concept of carpe diem is evident in Andrew Marvell’s perception. His view is still similar to that of Horace that there is uncertainty towards the future and the current time must be enjoyed and utilized to the maximum without stressing what is to come in the future (Hühn 45). Andrew Marvell was an English poet who wrote the poem “To His Coy Mistress”. Marvell’s perception of religion and time is similar to as explained by Horace. Though, the purpose of life is to be indulged in the pleasures of sex and not wine (Hühn 48). Throughout the poem, the concept of Carpe Diem is clearly shown since Marvell is telling his mistress to enjoy every moment they have together. Marvell is using irony by telling his mistress that he if had all the time in the world, he would take his time loving her and appreciating beauty.
The speaker presents post-existence when he says, “And yonder all before us lie, Deserts of vast eternity.” (Hühn 49). The afterlife according to him is a vast region without God. Just as Horace insists to Leuconoe that life’s purpose is to have fun and wine, the speaker in Marvell’s poem insists to his lover that they should use their time to enjoy their sex desires.
Be Drunk poem by French Poet Charles Baudelaire explores the carpe diem concept in the 19th century. Unlike the other two artists, Baudelaire never mentioned anything religion related in Be Drunk. The idea of seizing the day according to him is much wider because he suggests that people should enjoy their days doing anything that makes them happy (Gautier 2012).
Baudelaire shows carpe diem by persuading readers to have fun and don’t worry about time. His explanation of Be Drunk is how Charles deals with life. He suggests that we should live life to the fullest without regrets, knowing that time will pass and tomorrow will not be the same, get drunk and seize the day today. He believes that we should be “drunk” on anything that makes us happy and not limit ourselves by thinking, or stressing ourselves too much. He says, “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 drunk.” (Gautier 2012). For many of us, being in a state of drunkenness is defined as a good time, a time where we leave our worries to seize the moment. Baudelaire urges the reader to seize the day by getting drunk but does not limit pleasures to wine and sex.
From the analysis of the three literary works Ode, To His Coy Mistress, and Be Drunk, the idea of carpe diem has not changed much over the progression of time. The pessimistic perceptions of time, religion and purpose of life are witnessed in all poems. The major differences in these works are the interpretation of how a day should be seized. From drinking wine as indicated by Horace, to relishing sex, as stated by Marvell, and getting drunk on whatever makes life enjoyable. All writers agree that life must be relished and enjoyed without worries of tomorrow.
Literary Analysis of Carpe Diem in Winter Dreams
Winter Dreams, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is a story written after World War I about a man named Dexter who is trying to climb the social ladder in order to capture the object of his desire and the need to live an American dream. The story uses powerful language, imagery, and irony to tell this story. This story is an illustration of an unsuccessful need of seizing the day. During the analysis of Winter Dreams, we realize that Dexter hard work is motivated by his idealized view of the wealthy and prominent. The notion of carpe diem is perceived by looking into Dexter’s interpretation of settings in addition to his continuous admiration of Judy Jones the girl he glorified and blindly fell in love with at the age of eleven. Unluckily, though Dexter attempts to become rich is fruitful, the story ends after he realized that Judy was like any other girl especially after her spark disappeared. He realizes that what he dreamt of was nothing but nonexistent (Fitzgerald 9).
The manner in which the story settings are portrayed in Winter Dreams reflects the desire of Dexter to achieve a romanticized state of admiration and richness. This need is first noted in Dexter view of winter. He mirrors his agony over the closure of the golf course because it meant there were no rich people to socialize with. The story starts in Minnesota with Judy Jones and Dexter Green as the main characters. The two characters met at a golf Course because Dexter loved to hang out near wealthy people. From the first time, he saw Judy he was overwhelmed with emotions he could not understand. He even quitted his job and joined a prestigious college in the east coast. He describes Judy as: “…beautifully ugly as little girls are apt to be who are destined after a few years to be inexpressibly lovely and bring no end of misery to a great number of men.” (Fitzgerald 1). Dexter’s father owned the second best grocery-store in Black Bear but to him, that was not enough, being in the first position seems important to him.
As time goes by, Dexter acquires himself plenty of wealth by opening laundry shops for washing socks. He was now a part of the prominent and wealthy people he desired. Though, he still yearns for the idealized state he dreamed of. Dexter’s perception of idealized richness is shown when he had dinner with Judy for the first time. He expresses dissatisfaction over the clothes Judy wore, “She wore a blue silk afternoon dress, and he was disappointed at first that she had not put on something more elaborate.” (Fitzgerald 3). Additionally, his view of having servants reflects power but is disenchanted when Judy informed the maids that it was time to serve dinner. Dexter links fancy servants and clothing to the idealized life of riches. In addition to the riches, Dexter desires to be admired by others for his affluence. For a large portion of the story, the narrator is describing how both Judy and Dexter are lost and constantly trying to search for happiness. Dexter tries to be happy by meeting another woman named Irene, but he never really gave Irene a chance and always compared her to Judy (Fitzgerald 6). Judy was not happy too because he married a drunkard who often abused her.
Even after Dexter becoming wealthy, he never won the heart of Judy. He continues to admire his naïve view of who Judy was, thus, he fails to realize her flaws. From the moment he condoned how Judy treated her nurse to the moment he fails to see her materialistic attribute when she revealed that she was sad because the person she was attracted to informed her that he was not wealthy. These instances are clear depictions of his blind attraction to love and money which prevented him from realizing the true hollowness in Judy’s beauty.
When the story ends Fitzgerald reveals to us that Dexter was unable to seize the day. Though he became rich and prominent in the east, he never reached his idealized happiness he desired so much. The author says “the dream was gone. Something had been taken from him.” (Fitzgerald 9). He realizes that his life was empty and the love for Judy was long gone and it will never come back. He never cared anymore.
Carpe diem alludes to a desire to submerge ourselves in life’s pleasures without stressing about when or how the end may close. The naïve conviction of Dexter that being part of the wealthy and prominent class drove his daily struggles. His desire for connection with the wealthy as a child and to suit in as a grown up; his desperate wish for admiration and approval; in addition to his glorified view of Judy Jones life were his happiness. Unluckily, the story ends with Dexter’s realization that all he dreamed of never made him happy. The recognition that his dreams were long gone gives him a feeling of emptiness. Despite his struggles, Dexter was incapable of seizing the day. Time should be utilized creating something beneficial.
Theological Framework of Carpe Diem
From the previous sections throughout the essay, carpe diem approach has faintly changed with time, though the definition is still similar. A clear example of enjoying the pleasures without worries is the famous pop culture of YOLO. According to YOLO (You Only Live Once), we must enjoy the present time without fears because we live once, tomorrow is not guaranteed. Another example of seizing the day in the current society can be witnessed in graduation speeches delivered by Steve Jobs the CEO of Pixar Animation and Apple companies at Stanford University. He urges the graduates to seize the day by saying, “Do what you believe is great work and the only way to do great work is to be what you do.” (Jobs 2005). He continues to say that time is valuable and should not be wasted.
Even though the perception of life’s purpose in carpe diem has changed, time negativity and religion is still similar. In order to under biblical carpe diem, we first must understand Christian approach to life. Christians tactic of living is biblically defined as a way of living a full and meaningful life. Christians believe in eternal life as stated by philosopher Kierkegaard in his book Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing (Kierkegaard 2013). Solomon the wisest man in the Bible understood that life is short and all chances must be utilized before death. In Ecclesiastes 7:2, Solomon’s statement depicts sadness as he observes life. He states, “Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies – so the living should take this to heart” (NLT). His perception shows that people should seize the day by accepting that people die, it better to face the reality. Solomon enjoyed his life; he had many concubines and wives, he built lavish houses and had so much wealth and wisdom. Despite all the merry in his life he still understood the consequences.
Solomon in Ecclesiastes 2:10 notes, “And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure.” (NLT). Christians tend to avoid death and only pay it attention when we are forced to. This verse on Solomon is intended urge the unsaved to think about their position in the midst of God by giving the desire to make life amends. However, to Christians, this verse carries the most weight because a lot of Christians deny certain lifestyles. Christians live with the hope of having eternal life with God. On the contrary, Christians are aware that life on earth is limited and a day will come when we all will die because of our numbered days.
The Bible teaches us that procrastination is something that should be avoided and the enemy tells us that, “You have got time, there is no need to rush your sanctification”. Time moves quickly, for instance, human life is compared to a flower that is present today and withered tomorrow. We must make use of our time on earth. There is nothing wrong with watching TV or attending parties or living spontaneously, by living by the principles of Carpe Diem, but when doing anything we must know that there are consequences for all our actions. When the day of judgment comes we will be judged according to the weight of ours actions. We should take advantage of small moments in our lives. We are advised not to run for our salvation because Jesus has already secured it for us. “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16 NLT). Our eyes must be fixed on the end goal and not on our present sufferings.
As described previously, the concept of carpe diem over time as portrayed by Marvell, Horace, and Baudelaire goes against Biblical teachings. The bible supports the idea of carpe diem but unlike the literary writings which do not offer hope for tomorrow the Bible offers. Life should not be wasted doing ungodly activities because we will be judged on Judgement Day. Christians must seize their days by enjoying themselves and waiting for eternity.
Arkins, B. “Horace, Odes 1.11.” Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History I, hg. C. Deroux, Brüssel (1979): 257-265.
Bible, Holy. “King James Version.” Texas: National Publishing Company (2000).
Gautier, Théophile. Charles Baudelaire. BoD–Books on Demand, 2012.
Fitzgerald, Francis Scott. Winter Dreams. Kessinger Publishing, 2007.
Hühn, Peter. “Andrew Marvell:“To His Coy Mistress”.” The Narratological Analysis of Lyric Poetry. Studies in English Poetry from the 16th to the 20th Century (2011): 45-56.
Kierkegaard, Soren. Purity of heart is to will one thing. Simon and Schuster, 2013.
Jobs, Steve. “Steve Jobs Stanford Commencement Speech 2005.” Retrieved 3.2 (2005): 2014.