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Life is a Dream

Pedro Calderon de la Barca

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A play regarding the human situation and the mystery of life with the central theme being the conflict between free will and fate. The story focuses on the fictional Segismundo, Prince of Poland, who has been imprisoned in a tower by his father, King Basilio, following a dire prophecy that the prince would bring disaster to the country and death to the King. Basilio briefly frees Segismundo, but when the prince goes on a rampage, the king imprisons him again, persuading him that it was all a dream.

This book has 145 pages in the PDF version. The play originally premiered in 1635. This translation by Denis Florence MacCarthy was published in 1873.

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Excerpt from 'Life is a Dream'

ROSAURA in man's attire appears on the rocky heights and descends to the plain. She is followed by CLARIN:

ROSAURA: Wild hippogriff swift speeding,
Thou that dost run, the winged winds exceeding,
Bolt which no flash illumes,
Fish without scales, bird without shifting plumes,
And brute awhile bereft
Of natural instinct, why to this wild cleft,
This labyrinth of naked rocks, dost sweep
Unreined, uncurbed, to plunge thee down the steep?
Stay in this mountain wold,
And let the beasts their Phaeton behold.
For I, without a guide,
Save what the laws of destiny decide,
Benighted, desperate, blind.
Take any path whatever that doth wind
Down this rough mountain to its base,
Whose wrinkled brow in heaven frowns in the sun's bright face.
Ah, Poland! in ill mood
Hast thou received a stranger, since in blood
The name thou writest on thy sands
Of her who hardly here fares hardly at thy hands.
My fate may well say so:—
But where shall one poor wretch find pity in her woe?

CLARIN:  Say two, if you please;
Don't leave me out when making plaints like these.
For if we are the two
Who left our native country with the view
Of seeking strange adventures, if we be
The two who, madly and in misery,
Have got so far as this, and if we still
Are the same two who tumbled down this hill,
Does it not plainly to a wrong amount,
To put me in the pain and not in the account?

ROSAURA: I do not wish to impart,
Clarin, to thee, the sorrows of my heart;
Mourning for thee would spoil the consolation
Of making for thyself thy lamentation;
For there is such a pleasure in complaining,
That a philosopher I've heard maintaining
One ought to seek a sorrow and be vain of it,
In order to be privileged to complain of it.

CLARIN:  That same philosopher
Was an old drunken fool, unless I err:
Oh, that I could a thousand thumps present him,
In order for complaining to content him!
But what, my lady, say,
Are we to do, on foot, alone, our way
Lost in the shades of night?
For see, the sun descends another sphere to light.

ROSAURA: So strange a misadventure who has seen?
But if my sight deceives me not, between
These rugged rocks, half-lit by the moon's ray
And the declining day,
It seems, or is it fancy? that I see
A human dwelling?

CLARIN:  So it seems to me,
Unless my wish the longed-for lodging mocks.

ROSAURA: A rustic little palace 'mid the rocks
Uplifts its lowly roof,
Scarce seen by the far sun that shines aloof.
Of such a rude device
Is the whole structure of this edifice,
That lying at the feet
Of these gigantic crags that rise to greet
The sun's first beams of gold,
It seems a rock that down the mountain rolled.

CLARIN:  Let us approach more near,
For long enough we've looked at it from here;
Then better we shall see
If those who dwell therein will generously
A welcome give us.

ROSAURA: See an open door
(Funereal mouth 'twere best the name it bore),
From which as from a womb
The night is born, engendered in its gloom.

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