Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem
From my study window
        I see you
below in the garden, a hand
        here pruning
or leaning across to snip
        a wayward shoot;

a daub of powder-blue in a
        profusion of green,
then next moment, you are
        no longer there – 
only to reappear, this time
        perfectly framed

in dappling sunlight, with
        an armful of ivy
you've trimmed, topped by 
        hyacinth blooms,
fragrant survivors of last
        night's frost.

And my heart misses a beat
        at love for you,
knowing a time will come
        when you are
no longer there, nor I here
        to watch you

on a day of such simplicity.
        Meantime let us
make sure we clasp each
        shared moment
in cupped hands, like water
        we dare not spill.
Stewart Conn

from The Loving Cup (Edinburgh: Mariscat, 2007)

Reproduced by permission of the publisher.
Stewart Conn

Stewart Conn was the inaugural Edinburgh City Makar from 2002 to 2005. He is a poet and playwright, with more than a dozen collections of poetry; The Touch of Time: new & selected poems was published in 2014.  

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About Carpe Diem

This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2007. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2007 was Alan Spence.

Editor's comment: 
For more than 40 years Stewart Conn has been writing memorable poetry, well crafted, quietly lyrical, imbued with a warmth and compassion. 'Carpe Diem' is the tenderest of love poems, a memento mori, catching a moment of awareness. It's an impressionist painting come to life, and you catch your breath at the sheer delicacy of it, the sudden realisation of mortality. The shifts are perfectly handled - from observing the scene (lush and full of colour and life) to sensing its transience, to accepting that this too will pass, to treasuring the here and now which is all we know of eternity.

Author's note: 
'Carpe Diem' was sparked off quite simply, and as its opening lines suggest, by the view from the window of my study, at once work-place and vantage-point. Other factors – an undertow of affection shadowed by a sense of transience – then took over.

As I recall it was written almost impromptu, as can be the case with something coming in the wake of other poems which have been a struggle, as though they had cleared the mind, or the decks, for it. A certain urgency may be relayed in its brevity and use of a stanza form I'm not conscious of having employed elsewhere. It also stuck to its original length as against being progressively pared back and 'shaped', my more usual method.

The ending echoes that of 'The Loving-Cup', a poem central to a group I hoped might be published to coincide with my wife Judy's 70th birthday. Happily this was realised, with 'Carpe Diem' concluding the pamphlet which emerged. The title, from one of Horace's Odes, is generally translated as 'seize the day'; the phrase, though favoured by Byron, resonating less sensuously than the carpe florem of Herrick's rosebuds.

The reason I feel so gratified at seeing the poem in this setting is that if only a handful of my output were to be preserved, it would probably be one of my own front-runners, not just in tapping my feelings but for its observation, however slight, on the to-be-grasped nature of our lives. I hope it conveys, and may instil, a sense of wonder at what is. In the face of this I have to concede that for all its attendant lyricism it stems from what the poem's observed subject herself describes as 'doing the bloody pruning'.