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Carpe Diem – Robert Herrick’s poems

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    A carpe diem song or poem is commonly interpreted as “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die”. A carpe diem usually involves talking to a lover, persuading a lover to yield, and it reflects an epicurean worldview that life is short, that there is no punishment in the afterlife, and that one should not worry about the punishment or reputation. Above all the poet, in a desperate effort to persuade his lover to yield, offering that the opportunity is now. Poems or songs reflecting the carpe diem theme tend to focus on youth.

    Both Robert Herrick’s poem “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” and Catullus’s “Vivamus et Amemus” reflect the key characteristics of this specific genre. Catullus makes his appeal in the first three lines of the poem by saying “Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus, rumoresque senum severiorum omnes unius aestimemus assis! ” translated as “Let us live my Lesbia, let us love and let us value all the rumors of the old men to be worth just one penny! ”. Catullus strengthens his argument of a love life by using metaphors and vague descriptions.

    The metaphors he uses in lines 4-6 strengthen his appeal by describing why they must cherish their love without worrying about what others think. In line 5 when Catullus says “when that brief light has fallen for us” he uses this as a metaphor for the short amount of time the lovers have to live. Catullus is trying to convince Lesbia to come to him because they live only for a short time and they must love. Catullus strengthens his appeal further by saying “we must sleep a never ending night”. He makes this appeal even stronger by putting an elision between “perpetua” and “una”.

    To strengthen his appeal he describes how many kisses he wants in lines 7-9. He is able to confuse the reader and his lover, Lesbia, by asking for “hundreds” and “thousands” of “kisses”. Through repetition of mille, centum, dein, deinde, and altera Catullus is able to convey to Lesbia to not look, but to spend her time kissing. Herrick opens his “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” by his desire for us to seize the day. In line 1 Herrick says “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may” which can be interpreted as living life to the fullest.

    Herrick uses the rosebuds to represent earthly fulfillment and to represent the brevity of life. Herrick uses the flower in the third line to suggest that we are all like the flower in the sense that we will go through joyful moments, but the end result will be death for everyone. Herrick, in lines 5-8 increases the extent of the shortness of life and the necessity for life to be lived. He uses the sun as an image of the fullness of life, but uses the setting of the sun as an image of death. Herrick uses both the image of the rose and the image of the sun as a metaphor for the brevity of life and humans.

    In lines 9-12 Herrick uses the image of youth to represent the best time of your life and tells us to enjoy it. Herrick tells us that love holds a unique place in a persons life and that when it comes around in your life you must latch on to it. In the last 4 lines Herrick ties all aspects of life together and joins them in the union of marriage. Catullus and Herrick have different ways to exhibit their vision of a carpe diem, but one thing they both have in common is the elements of an epicurean argument and the elements that make up a carpe diem.

    Herrick’s poem tells the reader to take a chance and experience life. While Catullus tries to sway his lover Lesbia to yield impulsively, knowing that life is short so live life and that the opinions of others do not matter. Both poets appeal to their lovers and try to sway them to come to and join them. Although Herrick does not focus on the element of punishment in the afterlife and the relative importance of ones reputation, he does incorporate common elements such as speaking to a lover, opportunity is now, and life is short.

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