This chapter focuses on the most extreme and uncompromising expression of mortal poetics in the early modern period: the carpe diem lyric. This classical genre was entirely missing from the Petrarchan canon—it was clearly incompatible with the idea that love would endure for all eternity—but it surfaced with renewed energy, and with an entirely different resonance, in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the English carpe diem lyric, poets like Herrick and Marvell made a conscious and decisive break with the Christian metaphysics that structured their culture’s attitude toward death. There could be no mention of the soul’s eventual journey to heaven within a poem that urges an immediate seizing of the present; there could be no deferral of joy within a poem that imagines this day as the lovers’ only chance for bliss. Carpe diem poetry always depended upon a strictly physical basis for love, but this physical basis became all the more pronounced once the idea of spiritual transcendence was actively rejected. What emerged was an embrace of the present whose intensity and poignancy was built upon the full recognition of what mortal love left behind.
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