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Now… or Never

Reading has a way of pulling material out for us.  I fully intended to write about the Battle of Lake Erie today, but it will have to wait just a bit longer.  Instead I came across this poem last night while thinning out the bookshelves.  I have books stacked on books, and it’s time to clean out a bunch of them.  Fall yard sale or donate to a library or sell to a used bookstore?  Their fate is to be determined.  But back to that poem.  It speaks of young lust to be sure, but also calls out across the centuries, warning us to get on with it already (so to speak), for time is short:

“Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day…

But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv’d virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.”

– Andrew Marvell, To His Coy Mistress

Who doesn’t smile at the game old Andrew was playing here?  That the game was played in the 1650’s, but published posthumously, as if our hero were reaching out from the grave to remind us that time is short, and to do what we must do….  now.  Carpe Diem.  Marvell was apparently a real player, and I spent some time getting acquainted with a few of his poems this morning before writing.  I may revisit his work sometime, but I can’t ignore the call.  I dance with a lot of ghosts after all, and so should everyone.  They know things we don’t yet know.  History speaks, and so does literature.

Interestingly, the first time I read the first and last two lines of the poem wasn’t in some English class, but in a business book written by Felix Dennis called How to Get Rich.  I’d picked up his book back in 2006 at the height of my lust for business success.  Back when I read it the first time I ignored the urgency of his call.  I’m less inclined to do so now.  Dennis died in 2014, joining Marvell in calling out from the grave.  Seize the day!

The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.”


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