Thursday, August 26

Life Is a Dream

Segismund is shackled in a prison tower and has just awakened:

A dream!
That seem'd as swearable reality
As what I wake in now.

Ay -- wondrous how
Imagination in a sleeping brain
Out of the uncontingent senses draws
Sensations strong as from the real touch;
That we not only laugh aloud, and drench
With tears our pillow; but in the agony
Of some imaginary conflict, fight
And struggle -- ev'n as you did; some, 'tis thought,
Under the dreamt-of stroke of death have died.

And what so very strange too -- In that world
Where place as well as people all was strange,
Ev'n I almost as strange unto myself,
You only, you, Clotaldo -- you, as much
And palpably yourself as now you are,
Came in this very garb you ever wore,
By such a token of the past, you said,
To assure me of that seeming present.


Ay; and even told me of the very stars
You tell me here of -- how in spite of them,
I was enlarged to all that glory.

Ay, By the false spirits' nice contrivance thus
A little truth oft leavens all the false,
The better to delude us.

For you know
'Tis nothing but a dream?

Nay, you yourself
Know best how lately you awoke from that
You know you went to sleep on? --
Why, have you never dreamt the like before?

Never, to such reality.

Such dreams
Are oftentimes the sleeping exhalations
Of that ambition that lies smouldering
Under the ashes of the lowest fortune;
By which, when reason slumbers, or has lost
The reins of sensible comparison,
We fly at something higher than we are --
Scarce ever dive to lower -- to be kings,
Or conquerors, crown'd with laurel or with gold,
Nay, mounting heaven itself on eagle wings.
Which, by the way, now that I think of it,
May furnish us the key to this high flight
That royal Eagle we were watching, and
Talking of as you went to sleep last night.

Last night? Last night?

Ay, do you not remember
Envying his immunity of flight,
As, rising from his throne of rock, he sail'd
Above the mountains far into the West,
That burn'd about him, while with poising wings
He darkled in it as a burning brand
Is seen to smoulder in the fire it feeds?

-- Pedro Calderón de la Barca La Vida es Sueño (Life Is a Dream)

Translated by Edward Fitzgerald