Friday, April 30, 2010

Stealing a thing of beauty

Just have to share this - and I hope the author doesn't mind.

Mark Vernon on Carpe Diem
‘Carpe diem’ means, of course, ‘Seize the day’, and comes from an ode by Horace. Though a friend of mine, who happens to be a former secretary of The Horatian Society, and speaks Latin as you and I do English, tells me that it can be translated in a more interesting way.

It could equally well be phrased ‘Harvest the day’. And I like that. It’s a little less aggressive and opportunistic. After all, it is often said that you reap what you sow, and so harvesting the day suggests that you have quite a lot of responsibility for what the day offers you. In his own translation, my friend goes a step further and writes ‘Gather in today’ – which picks up the other sentiment from the ode, namely that we might live this day as if it were our last. Today is the day when we can enjoy life, for yesterday is gone, and tomorrow never comes.


That said, it’s remarkable how difficult it is to do so. So much in our lives would have us recall what has happened, or hope for what might happen. There’s the nostalgia tendency, the pressure to reflect on school days, or when the kids were young, or when we were young. ‘The best days of our lives’ are said to be behind us. And then there’s the pressure to look after tomorrow. We take out mortgages and devote our working lives to paying off the debt, hoping that the house will be ours. Or we pay into pension plans and life insurance. That’s all good. But put together, nostalgia and concern for the future do have the effect of distancing us from today. 


In his poem, Days, Philip Larkin asked after what days might be for. He replied that days are where we live, for ‘Where can we live but days?’ Seize, harvest and gather in today.

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