It’s rare that I can combine both my Latin and English major in a photography post, so I apologize for the length up front.
This photograph was taken in my in-laws’ garden in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. The title refers to the first line of the 1648 poem by Robert Herrick’s, “To the Virgins, Make Much of Time,” which even non-English majors will remember from the scene in Dead Poet’s Society. As Robin Williams’ character notes, the theme of the poem is carpe diem – seize the day. Carpe diem is one of those phrases that has stood the test of time and meandered its way into the modern lexicon both in its original Latin and in its widely accepted translation. Unlike phrases such as et cetera or even cave canem (a common phrase, even written on a floor mosaic in Pompeii), carpe diem has a wonderfully beautiful, poetic history.
The ephemerality of life has long been a preoccupation of poets, and it should, therefore, be no surprise that the greatest poets of the greatest ages wrote about the transient nature of beautiful things. One of the earliest (extant) examples is Quintus Horatius Flaccus’ Ode 1.11, which features the line from which the phrase originates: “Sapias, vina liques, et spatio brevi spem longam reseces. Dum loquimur, fugerit invida aetas: carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero.” Translated, this means “Be wise, strain your wines, and because time is brief, cut short your long-term hopes. Even while we are speaking, jealous time will have fled: so, seize the day, trusting as little as possible in what comes next.”
“Carpe” is an agrarian word, and though it can be (and usually is) translated as “seize,” it would have been understood by the readers of the Ode to mean “pluck” (like a grape from the vine). It is this meaning that Herrick ascribes to when he says, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may / old Time is still a-flying / and this same flower that smiles today / to-morrow will be dying.” And it is this meaning I ascribed to the photograph, which I took after my son Kemper (who was four at the time) plucked this bud for his mother, who ultimately set it afloat in the birdbath outside our window.
Click here for a larger version.