This selection is on the theme of Carpe diem – these days usually translated as “seize the day”, but you could equally well translate it as “pluck” the day – as if it were a flower. Most of the examples here are from the Odes of Horace, the absolute master of the genre, and they include some of his most beautiful and atmospheric poems. For contrast, the final one is by a different poet – just possibly Virgil, but more probably by a gifted but anonymous writer whose poem became attached at some point to a manuscript of Virgil’s works.

To begin, here is a famous version with some of Horace’s best descriptions of nature and the simple pleasures of life (Soracte, Odes 1.9).

Next, here is the short piece in which Horace coins – or uses – the famous phrase (Odes 1.11).

Here , Horace combines the message with another recurring theme: the ultimate futility of accumulating great wealth (Odes 2.3).

Here is another in the form of a wistful piece addressed to a friend, Postumus (“Eheu fugaces”, Odes 2.4).

The poem here, from the fourth and last book of Odes is perhaps the most sombre of Horace’s “carpe diem” pieces (“Diffugere nives”, Odes 4.7).

Finally, the theme in other hands: here is a description. possibly by Virgil but more likely not, describing the Syrian hostess of a pub which is my favourite in all literature (Appendix Vergiliana, “Copa Syrisca”).

Today’s poem is traditionally ascribed to Virgil: it is plenty good enough, though not his usual style. If it does not make you want to spend a hot afternoon relaxing in the shade, see a doctor. The illustration of a Syrian dancer is by Waterhouse.

Hear the Latin and follow in English here.