It’s short. It’s snappy. It’s the new trailer for my forthcoming book Carpe Diem Regained. Please take 20 seconds of your day to check it out (and if you can share it on social media I’d be hugely grateful).
If you have another 20 seconds up your sleeve and would like a more contemplative route to seizing the day, treat yourself to this pithy poem I recently came across by Emily Dickinson (whose naughty brother Austin makes a guest appearance in my book):
A Death blow is a Life blow to Some
Who till they died, did not alive become —
Who had they lived, had died but when
They died, Vitality begun.
This poem is usually interpreted as a spiritual statement about the richness of life after death. But I wonder if it isn’t just as much a carpe diem poem, saying that we cannot truly live until we face the reality of our mortality and have the taste of death upon our lips.
What do you think? What meanings does it evoke for you?
Hello to you all. I hope you managed to seize plenty of days over the summer. For my part, I’ve been seizing a new title for my forthcoming book. After much debate and soul-searching, it will now be called Carpe Diem Regained: The Vanishing Art of Seizing the Day, rather than the original title used for the crowdfunding campaign, Carpe Diem Reclaimed: The Story of a Cultural Hijack. Fingers crossed that you like the new title. I certainly do – more poetic in my view, and closer to the real message of the book.
Speaking of poetry, I’ve decided to add a sneaky little appendix that contains not only top films and songs on the theme of carpe diem, but a selection of the greatest poetry too. Just to give you a sneak preview, one of them is that almost-forgotten classic, The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam.
For those who don’t know it, the Rubáiyát is a long poem by the eccentric English scholar Edward FitzGerald, based on his loose translation of verses by the eleventh-century Persian poet and mathematician ʽUmar Khayyām.
The initial publication of the Rubáiyát in 1859 – the same year as Darwin’s On The Origin of Species – went completely unnoticed: it didn’t sell a single copy in its first two years. But by chance a remaindered copy of FitzGerald’s twenty-page booklet was picked up for a penny by the Celtic scholar Whitley Stokes, who passed it on to Dante Gabriel Rosetti, who subsequently fell in love with it and sang its praises to his Pre-Raphaelite circle. In 1863 John Ruskin declared, ‘I never did – till this day – read anything so glorious’, and from there began a cult of Omar Khayyam that lasted at least until World War One, by which time there were 447 editions of Fitzgerald’s translation in circulation.
The poem was memorised, quoted and worshipped by a whole generation. Omár Khayyam dining clubs sprang up, and you could even buy Omar tooth powder and playing cards. During the war, dead soldiers were found in the trenches with battered copies in their pockets.
What was the attraction of the Rubáiyát? The answer lies in some of its most famous verses:
Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, – and sans End!
Then to the lip of this poor earthen Urn
I lean’d, the Secret of my Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmur’d – “While you live
Drink! – for, once dead, you never shall return.”
Oh, threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain – This Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.
The carpe diem calling of the Rubáiyát was unmistakable. It’s no wonder that the writer G. K. Chesterton declared the poem to be the bible of the ‘carpe diem religion’.
The Rubáiyát may or may not do it for you. So I’m intrigued to know of your own favourite poem or poems that evoke the spirit of seizing the day. Please tell me about them in the comments section below – I’d love to hear from you.
I would also appreciate another favour. Many people think that once a book from the crowd-funding publisher Unbound reaches 100% (as mine has) then you can no longer pledge support to it. Wrong! It is still possible to make a pledge and get your name printed in the back. So please do sign up if you’d like a copy, and it would be great if you could share the link with a few family and friends, and encourage them to join the merry band of 450 supporters: https://unbound.com/books/carpe-diem-reclaimed
BBC Radio 4 is celebrating the New Year with a marathon ten-hour dramatisation of Tolstoy’s epic novel War and Peace. As part of the festivities, I’ve written an article for the BBC on seven lessons we can learn from the life of the bearded sage for the art of living in 2015. Read the article here, which is based on my book The Wonderbox (published in the US as How Should We Live?). But if you want a quick taster of his top tips for a happy life:
You may have heard about the online Empathy Library I founded a few months ago. It’s been fantastic to watch it grow. It received over 100,000 visits in its first few weeks of life, and now contains reviews of hundreds of books and films which have been entered by its thousands of users. Anyone can join and add their favourites. Continue reading →
I am sitting in a tiny, sparse stone hut at the top of a North Devon cliff, overlooking the sea. Outside is an enticing sign: ‘Ronald Duncan’s Writing Hut is Open’. This is where the West Country poet and playwright – best known for writing the libretto for Benjamin Britten’s opera The Rape of Lucretia – used to spend his working days. Continue reading →
You can always tell when a new idea is becoming popular – people start critiquing it. That’s certainly the case when it comes to empathy, a concept that is getting more public attention today than at any point in its history (the frequency of Google searches for the word ’empathy’ has more than doubled in the past decade). Continue reading →
It was exactly 30 years ago that George Orwell set the opening of his novel 1984: ‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’ Most people know Orwell for this novel, and his satirical tale Animal Farm. Less well known is that he was one of the great empathic adventurers of the twentieth century. In the following short clip from my RSA Animate The Power of Outrospection, I describe how Orwell learned to step into other people’s shoes when he became a tramp on the streets of East London in the late 1920s. Orwell was one of the major inspirations for my new book Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution.
Today I’m pleased and proud to announce the launch of my new project, the world’s first online Empathy Library. It’s a digital treasure house where you will find inspiring and powerful books and films that catapult your imagination into other people’s lives. There are Top Ten Charts, you can browse by themes like love or poverty, and join the library to add your own favourite items. Think of it as Goodreads for the Empathy Revolution! Supporting organisations include The School of Life, Friends of the Earth, Ashoka and Roots of Empathy.
Tolstoy was more than just a great novelist with one of the best beards of the nineteenth century. He was also a radical social and political thinker who was constantly grappling with the problem of how to live. I’ve just written an article about his approach to the art of living called Six Life Lessons from Leo Tolstoy, which you can find over at Powells Books Blog.
It’s launch day for my new book How Should We Live? Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life, which has just been released in the US. Previously published in the UK under the title The Wonderbox (sorry, a bit confusing, I know), it’s about what history can teach us about the art of living. What might we learn from the Ancient Greeks about the different varieties of love, from the Renaissance about creativity and death, or from the industrial revolution about rethinking our attitudes to work, money and family life?
But rather than tell you all about the book myself, there’s a fascinating review and discussion of it by the brilliant Maria Popova from Brain Pickings, which came out today. She describes it (most flatteringly) as ‘an illuminating and awakening read in its entirety’. Check out her full article, which focuses on the topics of love, time and empathy.