LIFE IS A DREAM – Monologue (Segismund)

A monologue from the play by Pedro Calderón de la Barca

NOTE: This monologue is reprinted from Eight Dramas of Calderon. Trans. Edward Fitzgerald. London: Macmillan & Co., 1906.


Princes and warriors of Poland–you
That stare on this unnatural sight aghast,
Listen to one who, Heaven-inspired to do
What in its secret wisdom Heaven forecast,
By that same Heaven instructed prophet-wise
To justify the present in the past.
What in the sapphire volume of the skies
Is writ by God’s own finger misleads none,
But him whose vain and misconstructed eyes,
They mock with misinterpretation,
Or who, mistaking what he rightly read,
Ill commentary makes, or misapplies
Thinking tno shirk or thwart it. Which has done
The wisdom of this venerable head;
Who, well provided with the secret key
To that gold alphabet, himself made me,
Himself, I say, the savage he fore-read
Fate somehow should be charged with; nipp’d the growth
Of better nature in constraint and sloth,
That only bring to bear the seed of wrong
And turn’d the stream to fury whose out-burst
Had kept his lawful channel uncoerced,
And fertilized the land he flow’d along.
Then like to some unskilful duellist,
Who having over-reached himself pushing too hard
His foe, or but a moment off his guard–
What odds, when Fate is one’s antagonist!–
Nay, more, this royal father, self-dismay’d
At having Fate against himself array’d,
Upon himself the very sword he knew
Should wound him, down upon his bosom drew,
That might well handled, well have wrought; or, kept
Undrawn, have harmless in the scabbard slept.
But Fate shall not by human force be broke,
Nor foil’d by human feint; the Secret learn’d
Against the scholar by that master turn’d
Who to himself reserves the master-stroke.
Witness whereof this venerable Age,
Thrice crown’d as Sire, and Sovereign, and Sage,
Down to the very dust dishonour’d by
The very means he tempted to defy
The irresistible. And shall not I,
Till now the mere dumb instrument that wrought
The battle Fate has with my father fought,
Now the mere mouth-piece of its victory–
Oh, shall not I, the champion’s sword laid down,
Be yet more shamed to wear the teacher’s gown,
And, blushing at the part I had to play,
Down where the honour’d head I was to lay
By this more just submission of my own,
The treason Fate has forced on me atone?
You stare upon me all, amazed to hear
The word of civil justice from such lips
As never yet seem’d tuned to such discourse.
But listen–In that same enchanted tower,
Not long ago I learn’d it from a dream
Expounded by this ancient prophet here;
And which he told me, should it come again,
How I should bear myself beneath it; not
As then with angry passion all on fire,
Arguing and making a distemper’d soul;
But ev’n with justice, mercy, self-control,
As if the dream I walk’d in were no dream,
And conscience one day to account for it.
A dream it was in which I thought myself,
And you that hail’d me now then hail’d me King,
In a brave palace that was all my own,
Within, and all without it, mine; until,
Drunk with excess of majesty and pride,
Methought I tower’d so high and swell’d so wide,
That of myself I burst the glittering bubble,
That my ambition had about me blown,
And all again was darkness. Such a dream
As this in which I may be walking now;
Dispensing solemn justice to you shadows,
Who make believe to listen; but anon,
With all your glittering arms and equipage,
King, princes, captains, warriors, plume and steel,
Ay, ev’n with all your airy theatre,
May flit into the air you seem to rend
With acclamation, leaving me to wake
In the dark tower; or dreaming that I wake
From this that waking is; or this and that
Both waking or both dreaming; such a doubt
Confounds and clouds our mortal life about.
And, whether wake or dreaming, this I know,
How dream-wise human glories come and go;
Whose momentary tenure not to break,
Walking as one who knows he soon may wake
So fairly carry the full cup, so well
Disorder’d insolence and passion quell,
That there be nothing after to upbraid
Dreamer or doer in the part he play’d,
Whether To-morrow’s dawn shall break the spell,
Or the Last Trumpet of the eternal Day,
When Dreaming with the Night shall pass away.

Read the play here

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