Is there a more vile phrase than “carpe diem”? Answer: yes. But we’ll ignore that fact for the sake of my rant.
There are so many other poignant and effective Latin phrases. The edgy, middle-finger to destiny, “Mors certa, hora incerta.” The one that’s perfect for any occasion, “In omnia paratus.” The classic patriarchal line, “Semper ubi sub ubi.” And one of my own personal favorites, “Si quis furetur, anathematis ense necetur.” It doesn’t get much more badass than that, let me tell you.
But no, “carpe diem” became one of the more well-known and (ab)used. “Seize the day,” the anthem of deluded poets, lascivious individuals, lascivious poets, deluded individuals, and people who can’t quite be bothered to put time or effort into anything and just go for it because why not, continues its rounds even today.
It’s rather remarkable that “carpe diem” became a thing, considering that “seize” is actually one of the secondary meanings of “carpere.” Its more common meanings are “to pick” or “to harvest.” But apparently the image of dudes wearing togas out in a vineyard plucking grapes and lyre strings didn’t exactly fit the ideal of the guy who coined the phrase (which actually would have been one of those dudes in a toga before the Cavalier poets went all cavalier with its usage).
Certainly there were other verb options available to diem. “Appendere” works fine. “Conripere” sounds a little violent, so probably a smart choice to avoid. “Capessere” is a little too eager, even for these over-enthusiasts. “Rapere” would have made their intentions too obvious.
Not that there’s much subtlety amongst their ilk in the first place. “Seizing the day” basically amounts to going, and going, and going, and doing, and doing, and doing, and banging, and banging, and banging. It’s like Dr. Seuss for adults, expect without rhyme (or that other r thing (it does have this R thing, though)).
Though, what were we expecting from such heedless plebeians? I mean, how desperate do you have to be to saunter up to someone and declare, “Felicitations, fair maiden. We could expire at a mercurial juncture. Would you fain exchange coitus with me?” And how desperate would you have to be to reply, “Forsooth! We twain shall engage in merry copulation”? If I had to translate it into modern speech, it would probably go something like, “Ey, guuurl. We should Netflix and chill The Office because it’ll be gone soon.”
The sheer audacity of actually believing the most can be grasped from a day is absurd. A pursuit of things, even good, important things, swiftly loses focus of what was important and good and shifts to the pursuit itself. Life becomes a list to be crossed. Pleasure, once in the foreground, fades, falls to the hunt of “more.” In the end, the only things they will obtain are dissatisfaction, restlessness, exhaustion, and regret.
Instead, they should go back to those guys in the vineyard with their togas, lyres, and grapes. Those dudes know how to approach life. And it has nothing to do with the grapes, or the lyres, or even the togas. It has to do with the plucking.
Life goes on around us, too big to contain or hold. Plucking out certain pieces, however, is possible. The endless rush and seeking ought to be traded for careful examination and extraction. Do the things most necessary, most fun, most energizing. Channel calm. Patience. Focus on the matter at hand, but don’t try to squeeze all possible life and sustenance from it. Let it flow through you, speak to you, nourish you.
Try not to make life happen, but find life in the day-to-day. Living is a matter of perspective, not actions. Discern the true worth of an experience, situation, task, relationship and draw it out. What matters is not what we do, but why we do it.
Our pushing and prodding tend to have little to no effect on life. Giving up the control, allowing our grasping hands to slacken is scary. We don’t know what to do if we do nothing. Yet life goes on.
As we go with it, I propose an incipient phrase: “ne carpamus diem.” “Let us not seize the day.”
It is not an arrogant command, but a request. A heartfelt plea. The acknowledgment that a task beyond the capabilities of a single individual arises, entreating all to become a part of something greater. It will take a unified effort, but together we are stronger. Together, we can overcome the rush and the vanity of control. United, we can enjoy this walk of life.
Let it be. Let life do what it do. Gather what you can. Release stress. What you need will come to you, if you let it. Everything else can be plucked, with togas or not. Though between the two, please consider the toga.
Not’s a bit risqué.