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Carpe Diem
Apr 1, 2003

Anyone who has ever seen the movie Dead Poets Society will remember the scene on the first day at school. The English teacher, Prof. Keating (Robin Williams), drags his boys out of the classroom into the hallway and shows them the pictures of graduates who were the legends of the school - those who had died, but had contributed a verse that would not be forgotten. He says:

"Now I'd like you to step forward over here. They're not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you; their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? ...(1)

In order to emphasize the point, he brings them closer to the photos and whispers in their ears:

Carpe... hear it? ...carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary."(2)

In this article, we will look at the phrase carpe diem in detail and find answers for such questions as: What is carpe diem? Why is it so important? What if we don't carpe diem? and How can we live by this phrase?

Carpe diem defined

Carpe diem is a quotation from the Roman poet Horace (65-8 bce). It appears in the last line of Poem 11 in the first book of his Odes, which was published in 23 bce. The Latin word carpe refers to seize, and diem refers to day.

Carpe diem is a way of thinking, perceiving, and approaching daily life. It simply means to seize the day and to know that yesterday has already left you, and as for tomorrow, you have nothing to prove that it will be yours. In which case, your true life is the present day.(3) Thus, make the present day the most important day of your life. Seize the day, catch the wind, and use all of your potential before it is too late to reach your goals and to realize your dreams.

Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is mystery. Today is a gift. That's why they call it the present. Babatunde Olatunji

Carpe diem does not suggest that yesterday was unimportant or that tomorrow is not critical. Rather, it means that today is the only day over which we have some control, and that today is the day during which we can introduce differences into our life.

This idea is stated clearly in a Sanskrit proverb:

Look to this day,

This very life of life.

In its brief course lie all

The realities and verities of existence:

The bliss of growth,

The splendor of action,

The glory of power.

For yesterday is but a dream,

And tomorrow is only a vision.

But today, well lived,

Makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,

And every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore, to this day.

The importance of seizing the day.

A Senegalese proverb says: If you wait for tomorrow, tomorrow comes. If you don't wait for tomorrow, tomorrow comes. In other words, time marches on. However, we should not forget that every day is unique in itself, since each one of us has only one chance to live each day. No one has another life in the bank. Let's ask ourselves: If I knew that today was my last day, what would I do? We most certainly would make good use of this day! This is what carpe diem means, and the reason why it is important.

The same idea can be seen clearly in the carpe diem cliché read by Prof. Keating to his students in the Dead Poets Society:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may

Old Time is still a-Flying;

And this same flower that smiles today,

Tomorrow will be dying.(4) Robert Herrick

In addition, we should know that carpe diem is the key to understanding how nice, valuable, and important the current day is. When we realize this, we get a better understanding of what is really happening now, as well as a chance to respond to it with our full capacity on time so that we can make use of the opportunities provided by the current day. Thanks to this approach, we can live a more present-centered life, achieve our goals, and become more successful and happy. Richard Carlson's formula for success illustrates this quite well: "When you focus your attention in this moment, instead of moments that are over or yet to be, you will maximize your productivity, creativity, and ability to accomplish your goals. Too many future-oriented or past-oriented thoughts cloud your vision and distract you from what you are doing. The more present-moment oriented you become, the easier it will be to stay on track, get focused, concentrate, and achieve your goals. In short, an undistracted mind is able to make wise, appropriate decisions."(5)

No yesterdays are ever wasted for those who give themselves to today. Brendan Francis

What if we do not seize the day?

In this case, we never truly understand what is really happening around us. We either live in the past or the future - not today. If we do not capture the day and do not shape our life, we let other people and factors shape and direct our own life and so loose control of our own boat. We start making zigzags with every storm in the ocean that is our world. As a result, this vicious circle does not let us become who we really are and does not allow us to reach our goals and dreams, although we have the potential to do so.

Fr. Alfred D'Souza says: For a long time, it had seemed to me that life was about to begin - real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way. Something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.(6) source needed. Those who do not live by carpe diem will always face such obstacles. They will always get ready to live, but in reality, they will never live.

Furthermore, we must remember that every day is a new door with a new hope for a new beginning. If we do not seize the day, we think of today as past hardship and difficulty, as troubles and misfortune. Distressed, we imagine the possible future sorrows of disaster, become impatient and pessimistic, and feel unhappy. In being so, we resemble a foolish commander, who, although the enemy's right flank joined his right flank and became fresh forces for him, sent a significant force to the right flank, and weakened the center. Then, while there were no enemy soldiers on the left flank, he sent a large force there and gave them the order to fire. No forces then remained in the center. The enemy understood this and then attacked and routed him.(7) As it is seen in this example, we ruin the center (the present day) by focusing more on past worries and future concerns than on the present day.

How to seize the day?

First, we should remember that "every day is a new door for new beginnings. And for everyone, every day has a private world out of this world, and its nature is dependent on the person's heart, thoughts, and actions. [This is] like a splendid palace reflected in a mirror, [which] takes on the color of the mirror; if it is black, the mirror appears black; if it is red, it appears red. Also it takes on the qualities of the mirror; if the mirror is smooth, it shows the palace to be beautiful, and if it is not, it shows it to be ugly.(8) As we understand this and alter the shape of our own world with today's heart, mind, actions, and wishes, we will make differences in our lives and acquire a more hopeful and positive perspective in order to achieve our goals and to become happy.

When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us. Alexander Graham Bell

Second, we should perceive the past as destiny, which cannot be changed, and the future as a new place that can be built with today's thoughts and actions. Otherwise, we will always be occupied with past worries and future concerns.

Today's opportunities erase yesterday's failures. Gene Brown

"As for future days, they have not yet arrived, and to think of them now and feel bored and worried is a lunacy like thinking today of future hunger and thirst, and starting to shout and cry out.(9) Since this is the truth, reasonable people will think only of today in connection with hardship, suffering, and so on.

Third, we should recognize, accept, and appreciate who we really are and the conditions in which we live. Thus instead of complaining or admiring, we should look at those who are living in worse conditions than us and be thankful for the things that we have. In addition, we should use our wings of hope and determination to become like those who are living in better conditions than us. Doing so will help us to become more realistic and to live a more present-time-oriented life. Otherwise, our minds will be engaged with time-consuming, unproductive ideas and opinions. And, as a result, there will be no room remaining for carpe diem.

Fourth, we should be well-organized, systematic, and more focused toward our goals. We should not postpone anything, but rather should do things on time by making good use of each moment, for it is almost impossible to seize the day if we do not even know what to do, how to do, and when to do it. Such people can be blown from one coast to another by any little change of wind in their life.

You may delay, but time will not. Benjamin Franklin

Fifth, and last, we should not worry about anything; rather, we should make a serious effort to continue with a new eagerness and fresh enthusiasm each day.


Carpe diem is a way of life that makes people more successful and happier by helping them to live more in the present time. We should recognize that if we practice this idea, if we make today the best that it can be, if we can be attentive and sensitive to what is happening now, as well as make wise and appropriate decisions today, then we should be hopeful. Why? Because all of the efforts exerted and the hardships endured are like melodies of the happy future world in whose warmth the past and the future will be embraced and the present will unburden itself to its blessed friends.


  1. Tom Schulman, 1989, Dead Poet's Society Movie Script
  2. Ibid.
  3. Bediuzzaman, The Words, 21st Word, First Station, Fifth Warning
  4. "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time", Robert Herrick
  5. "You Can Be Happy No Matter What", Richard Carlson
  6. Fr. Alfred D'Souza,
  7. Bediuzzaman, The Words, 21st Word, Third Station, Fifth Warning
  8. Bediuzzaman, The Words, 21st Word, First Station, Fifth Warning
  9. Bediuzzaman, The Words, 21st Word, Third Station, Fifth Warning