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Then be not coy, but use your time; And while ye may, goe marry: For having lost but once your prime, You may for ever tarry. What are you waiting for? This deceptively simple poem challenges everything. It is a powerful and beautiful statement of the outrageous, sad, and ultimately fatal predicament we all find ourselves in. This idea that language conceals, that language is an unstable and untrustworthy medium, is widely shared in mid-to-late twentieth-century continental and continentally-influenced thought.

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A carpe diem poem exists within an established literary subcategory, inhabits an enclosed ontological and significatory space. And yet the carpe diem theme itself celebrates not the rule-bound realms of art, conventionality, contextualization, but rather pure sensory experience. That is, it recommends that which by its form it denies. Pure experience is precisely what language does not offer; experience is always processed, mediated by the cultural forms including language and art through which we apprehend it. The carpe diem poem seems to point to, even provide access to, a mysteriously life-enhancing realm of experience but simultaneously substitutes a highly artificial construct—itself—for such experience.

That would be a direct, straightforward, and relatively uncontroversial statement. But note how the critic builds or tears down from that basis. Though still quite straightforward, this version introduces the smallest of doubts. It is easy to see how a poem might point to such a thing, but how could a poem provide access thereto?

The obvious answer is that it cannot. This last move relies on meaningless inflation of its terms. The effect looked for, however, is not precision of definition, so much as it is the enhancement—through rhetorical inflation—of an already threadbare line of reasoning. As refashioned by the critic, the product does not, indeed cannot, deliver on its promises.

By illustrating the unstoppable rush of time, the need to seize the day is made manifest. Not to tarry, not to defer the gathering of rosebuds, is not to defer death, the final gathering, the end of the race. Thus the poem simultaneously illustrates both the wisdom and the folly of heeding its message.

But that is not what the poem claims. Instead it asserts that to defer gathering rosebuds is to defer possibly until it is too late the all-too-short experience of the most pleasurable aspects of life. Death is not the question of the poem—the question is what each of us will do with the time left before death.

Only a critic who cannot or will not see past his or her ideological commitments could expect to be taken seriously when advancing this argument. But this is the kind of reasoning required by the step-by-step, paint-by-numbers process of the hermeneutics of suspicion method of reading.

The carpe diem strategy posits sexual pleasure as life-intensifying, and thus a defense against mortality; intense pleasure, whether in anticipation, experience, or memory, in a sense displaces the consciousness or fear of death. But sexuality viewed not as pleasure but as reproduction makes the individual, his experiences, his consciousness, and his very existence, superfluous, expendable. The only perfect defense against fear of death, against the paralyzing anxiety of the coy virgin, is death itself.

The final rosebud to be gathered is death itself […] Aggression against the self thus occurs both in rejecting desire and in seeking it; the first denies to the self a range of possible experiences […]; the second is that impulse through which is created the replacement for the self in the next generation […]—to seek desire is thus, paradoxically, a form of indirect suicide.

Sexuality as reproduction makes the individual expendable. None is offered. The only perfect defense against the fear of death is death itself. Of course not.

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The point of that final statement lies, not in any actual truth claim, but in its rhetorical effect. After being put through this process, the poem that generations of readers thought they had read has nearly disappeared, and the most famous of carpe diem poems has been transformed into a carpe mortem poem.

This is what experience proves. What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a Master. But it is part of a much longer story in literary criticism and interpretation, one that stretches back all the way to Akiba and Origen and their insistence that the Song of Songs be read against its own text. Modern academic criticism of the troubadours is at pains to assure us that the poetry does not actually mean what it merely appears to mean.

Philosophy is the invention of prose. Philosophy speaks in prose. Intolerant of poetry, philosophy took writing to be the letter. No virgins are oppressed or subjugated by being encouraged to live a little before they die; not even if the poem is interpreted as a seduction lyric is its advice harmful to anyone except to the extent to which they are locked within systems of control in a society in which female sexuality is regarded as a valuable commodity to be bought and sold by fathers and father-chosen husbands. Here, perhaps, the reading method of Rashi is what best serves: the plain meaning of this text is an exhortation to enjoy each day, each moment, because we are all running out of time.

We have short time to stay, as you, We have as short a Spring; As quick a growth to meet Decay, As you, or any thing. The carpe diem poem is itself what interrogates the real not merely interpretive violence of a world in which life exists only to be snuffed out. The carpe diem motif in English poetry is a response to a world which seemed to many to be falling apart:. Many responded to this threat by devoting themselves to repentance and prayer, but others translated this anxiety into a kind of seductive energy, urging the pleasures of the day before the day was no more.

What point is there in sacrifice and prayer, when heaven seems indifferent to all living things below? Far better to. Drink Wine, and live here blithefull, while ye may: The morrowes life to late is, Live to-day. This device of creating imaginary women who exist outside social reality enables Herrick [to] be innovative, disruptive, even subversive in his depictions of gender roles. Herrick defies the limits of standard interpretation […] using text and language, using poetic liturgy, as a means by which accepted injustices might be mollified and eventually perhaps even corrected.

On a day such as this, the poem suggests it would be a sin to refrain:.

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May Day was condemned by Puritan writers for the sexual license it encouraged; the phallic symbolism of the maypole was noted by many. Elizabethan constables gave orders on several occasions for the maypoles to be pulled down, the festivals themselves to be prohibited, and any resisters to be arrested:. At Banbury, Oxon, a Puritan center whose M. Celebrating life against death—especially in an environment in which life is denigrated as sinful, while death is lauded as a final release from human wickedness—is in itself a revolutionary act.

I realize that there is no superhuman happiness, no eternity outside of the arc of time. These trivial and basic necessities, these relative truths are the only things that move me. Not that we should be like beasts, but the happiness of angels is meaningless to me. Come, let us goe, while we are in our prime; And take the harmlesse follie of the time. We shall grow old apace, and die Before we know our liberty. However, from the point of view of Rabbi Akiba, or the early Church father Origen, or the theological readers devoted to the allegorical reading of texts, or the countless academic critics who practise a hermeneutics of suspicion, the poem is a blank canvas, to be written over in ways that suit the ideological demands of the particular and present moment.

Such was the interpretive method approved by William Prynne, a man for whom no expressions of moral condemnation could go too far:. Hence Origen, Hierom and others informe us that in ancient times Children and Youthes among the Jews were not permitted to read the Booke of Canticles [the Song of Songs] before they came to the age of 30 years, for feare they should draw those spirituall love passages to a carnall sence, and make them instruments to inflame their lusts.

I must have chuckled. I shrugged. When we end up looking and sounding like William Prynne, a humorless Puritan fanatic and ideologue, perhaps it really is time to pull back from gazing into the abyss. Will you live now, as you would if there were no laws—either human or divine, secular or theological—against the joys of life, the joys of love, the joys of living uninhibitedly in the fullest and most human and embodied sense?

Or will you obey, do as you are told, refrain from the physical and passionate side of a life that you have been taught is sinful and shameful, spending your only years on Earth apologizing for being alive, apologizing for wanting the things you want but are convinced that you should not want? Or will you wear them, for the rest of your life, as you patiently and obediently wait for death?

Horace : Epodes and Odes , ed. Garrison Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, , In Elizabeth D. Harvey and Katharine Eisaman Maus, eds.

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John Donne Journal , 1 , In John Haffenden, ed. Essays on Renaissance Literature , Vol. Returning to John Donne Farnham: Ashgate, , 3.

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Smith New York: Penguin, , , ll. Further references to this volume will be by line number, Donne, and page number. IV: — , Cognitive Psychology Belmont: Wadsworth Cengage, , In Achsah Guibbory, ed. Quoted in Larson, As Samuel Johnson describes his life and death: [I]n a course of drunken gaiety, and gross sensuality, with intervals of study, perhaps, yet more criminal, with an avowed contempt of all decency and order, a total disregard of every moral, and a resolute denial of every religious obligation, he lived worthless and useless, and blazed out his youth and his health in lavish voluptuousness, till, at the age of one-and-thirty, he had exhausted the fund of life, and reduced himself to a state of weakness and decay [and] died July 26, , before he had completed his thirty-fourth year.

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Samuel Johnson. London: J. In her, ed. Symposium c. The Sewanee Review , 3 July—September , Katharine Thomason. The Complete Poems of Robert Herrick , ed. Further references to these volumes will be by line number, Herrick, volume number, and page number. Criticism , 2 Spring , The Paul de Man Notebooks , ed. Gathering rosebuds does not defer death—this is a simple, straightforward statement. Not to defer gathering rosebuds is not to defer death—this statement cloaks itself, through its negations and convolutions, in an appearance of profundity, which lends a kind of thinly-woven authority to the statement that follows. Celebrated for his obscurity, especially among the inane, For all the stupid greatly admire and love That which is concealed beneath inverted words.

Nichomachean Ethics I , ed. New Republic. This kind of devotion to the difficult can be seen in the almost de rigueur political contempt for the idea of clarity expressed with ironic clarity by Trink T.