Thursday, August 11, 2005

Carpe Diem

I often heard the term Carpe Diem, on many occasions from the religious, and also friends and colleagues. This is a common term which means seize the day, but there is much philosophy behind. Seize what, that is the question. On one hand, it encourages people to treasure time to do meaningful things. On the other, some adopt the attitude of not doing anything but to play for the day. So I ask the almighty Internet for an answer.

Carpe diem is Latin for "pluck the day," meaning "enjoy the moment". It has been translated into English as "seize the day," but carpere means "to pluck." This rule of life can be traced back more than 2000 years and be found in the "Odes" (I, 11.8) of the Roman poet Horace (65-8 BC), where it reads: Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero ("pluck the day, never trust the next") It is quoted accordingly either as a demand not to waste somebody's time with useless things, or as a justification for pleasure and joy of life with little fear for the future.

Roman culture and literature had declined thereafter and Europe underwent the medieval period for over 1000 years. Then came the Renaissance with an enthusiasm in the rediscovery of ancient classical texts and learning and their applications in the arts and sciences. Horace's Odes became fashion and influenced poetry of the day. This idea carpe diem was popular in 16th and 17th-century English poetry, made famous by Robert Herrick and William Shakespeare. To go with the culture of the feudal system where kings and nobles were exploiting the mass and lived in luxurious way, carpe diem in poetry also portrayed hedonism.

The most recent fad on carpe diem came from Robin Williams' character as a teacher of a boys' boarding school in the film "Dead Poets Society". Powerful and famous lines were spoken by Robin Williams to the students when he introduced the dead poets to them: "But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? - Carpe - hear it? - Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary."

The moral of Dead Poets Society reminds us to seize each day and cherish them dearly. Every day opportunities await us and we must decide whether to take the chance or play it safe. The main theme was an encouragement to the students to take the risks, for nothing is gained without them. Risks were taken; the result was extraordinary; the film has a sad ending.

To me, the message is simple. If life is short and there may not be tomorrow, then we must seize the day and do the most valuable thing. The most valuable thing is a valuable personal value judgement. While sky is the limit, I think the most immediate valuable thing is to complete the task at hand in the most satisfactory manner.

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