Thursday, March 06, 2014


What is Our Life?

Walter Raleigh (1552-1618), in Orlando Gibbons, The First Set of Madrigals and Mottets (1612), no. xiv, in English Madrigal Verse 1588-1632, ed. E.H. Fellowes, 2nd ed. (1929; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950), p. 99 (line numbers added):
What is our life? a play of passion.
Our mirth the music of division.
Our mothers' wombs the tiring-houses be,
Where we are dressed for this short comedy.
Heaven the judicious sharp spectator is,        5
That sits and marks still who doth act amiss.
The graves that hide us from the searching sun
Are like drawn curtains when the play is done.
Thus march we, playing, to our latest rest,
And then we die in earnest, that's no jest.        10
2 division: "The execution of a rapid melodic passage, originally conceived as the dividing of each of a succession of long notes into several short ones; such a passage itself, a florid phrase or piece of melody, a run..." (Oxford English Dictionary, s.v., sense 7.a)
3 tiring-houses: dressing-rooms

On the world as a stage and life as a play, see Ernst Robert Curtius (1886-1956), European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, tr. Willard E. Trask (1953; rpt. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), pp. 138-144 ("Theatrical Metaphors").

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