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Themes in Count That Day Lost

Themes Examples in Count That Day Lost:

Text of the Poem

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"Then count that day as worse than lost. ..."   (Text of the Poem)

In most carpe diem poetry, the poet begins with a negative argument about the ephemeral nature of life and beauty, or the negative consequences of not making each day count. They end the poem with a positive argument about what the reader can do to combat these negative aspects of life and seize the day, generally in a manner that benefits the speaker. Notice that in this poem, Eliot reverses the order of her carpe diem argument. She begins with the positive argument—do one good deed every day and your days will be worthwhile. She then ends with the negative argument—if you do not do one good deed, your day is worse than lost. This structure could be a reaction to traditional carpe diem poetry. In ending with the consequences of wasting a day, her poem’s message benefits the reader more than the speaker.

"Then..."   (Text of the Poem)

Note here the kind of cause and effect relationship that Eliot describes for doing good. She again takes the reader through the logical steps of benevolence with an “if...then” structure. In other words, if at the end of the day you have “cheered no heart” by any means of the phrase, then you can consider the day “lost.” The stakes of inaction are now much higher.

"most small..."   (Text of the Poem)

Notice that the “good deed” the narrator proposes everyone do is, in fact, incredibly small. She proposes that a “good deed” is simply making another person happy for a moment. In this way, the poem is not about abstract religious virtue but rather about real virtuous conduct towards fellow human beings.

"cheered no heart..."   (Text of the Poem)

Note that Eliot’s kind deeds are action-based rather than philosophical. In many literary works, virtue is perceived as a kind of inclination or natural disposition, meaning that if one is not born with virtue, it may seem difficult to achieve it. This poem puts forth a different kind of virtue, one that is achieved by way of behavior and action, rather than mental predispositions.

"One self-denying deed..."   (Text of the Poem)

Calling for “one self-denying deed” conjures images of a martyr. A martyr is someone who suffers persecution or death by honoring their beliefs; who sacrifices the self for a cause or population larger than oneself. Martyrdom is a common theme in religious stories. The narrator's call for self-denial once again suggests a connection between Eliot’s message and religious themes, and makes more apparent the religious framework on which her argument is built.

"livelong..."   (Text of the Poem)

Eliot frequently underscores the incredible length of a single “livelong day” throughout the poem. Thus, kindness and goodwill are not only easily enacted, but they “cost” the individual a very small amount of their time in the grand scheme of things. By emphasizing the number of hours in the day, Eliot reminds us that we all have time to help others.

"eased the heart..."   (Text of the Poem)

When Eliot writes that one need only seek to perform good deeds that have “eased the heart” of another, her allegory moves away from the realm of religion. The good deeds that she is calling on the reader to perform are not abstract or extravagant. A good deed can take the form of a small kind gesture.

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