Fiction > Harvard Classics > Pedro Calderón de la Barca > Life Is a Dream
Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–1681).  Life Is a Dream.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Scene I
The Tower, etc., as in ACT I. SCENE I.

SEGISMUND, as at first, and CLOTALDO

  CLOTALDO.  Princes and princesses, and counsellors
Fluster’d to right and left—my life made at—
But that was nothing—
Even the white-hair’d, venerable King
Seized on—Indeed, you made wild work of it;        5
And so discover’d in your outward action,
Flinging your arms about you in your sleep,
Grinding your teeth—and, as I now remember,
Woke mouthing out judgment and execution,
On those about you.        10
  SEG.        Ay, I did indeed.
  CLO.  Ev’n now your eyes stare wild; your hair stands up—
Your pulses throb and flutter, reeling still
Under the storm of such a dream—
  SEG.        A dream!        15
That seem’d as swearable reality
As what I wake in now.
  CLO.        Ay—wondrous how
Imagination in a sleeping brain
Out of the uncontingent senses draws        20
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,        25
Under the dreamt—of stroke of death have died.
  SEG.  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        30
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.
  CLO.        Ay?        35
  SEG.  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.
  CLO.        Ay,
By the false spirits’ nice contrivance thus        40
A little truth oft leavens all the false,
The better to delude us.
  SEG.        For you know
’Tis nothing but a dream?
  CLO.        Nay, you yourself        45
Know best how lately you awoke from that
You know you went to sleep on?—
Why, have you never dreamt the like before?
  SEG.  Never, to such reality.
  CLO.        Such dreams        50
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,        55
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,        60
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.
  SEG.  Last night? Last night?
  CLO.        Ay, do you not remember        65
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        70
Is seen to smoulder in the fire it feeds?
  SEG.  Last night—last night—Oh, what a day was that
Between that last night and this sad To-day!
  CLO.  And yet, perhaps,
Only some few dark moments, into which        75
Imagination, once lit up within
And unconditional of time and space,
Can pour infinities.
  SEG.        And I remember
How the old man they call’d the King, who wore        80
The crown of gold about his silver hair,
And a mysterious girdle round his waist,
Just when my rage was roaring at its height,
And after which it all was dark again,
Bid me beware lest all should be a dream.        85
  CLO.  Ay—there another specialty of dreams,
That once the dreamer ’gins to dream he dreams,
His foot is on the very verge of waking.
  SEG.  Would it had been upon the verge of death
That knows no waking—        90
Lifting me up to glory, to fall back,
Stunn’d, crippled—wretcheder than ev’n before.
  CLO.  Yet not so glorious, Segismund, if you
Your visionary honour wore so ill
As to work murder and revenge on those        95
Who meant you well.
  SEG.        Who meant me!—me! their Prince
Chain’d like a felon—
  CLO.        Stay, stay—Not so fast,
You dream’d the Prince, remember.        100
  SEG.        Then in dream
Revenged it only.
  CLO.        True. But as they say
Dreams are rough copies of the waking soul
Yet uncorrected of the higher Will,        105
So that men sometimes in their dreams confess
An unsuspected, or forgotten, self;
One must beware to check—ay, if one may,
Stifle ere born, such passion in ourselves
As makes, we see, such havoc with our sleep,        110
And ill reacts upon the waking day.
And, by the bye, for one test, Segismund,
Between such swearable realities—
Since Dreaming, Madness, Passion, are akin
In missing each that salutary rein        115
Of reason, and the guiding will of man:
One test, I think, of waking sanity
Shall be that conscious power of self-control,
To curb all passion, but much most of all
That evil and vindictive, that ill squares        120
With human, and with holy canon less,
Which bids us pardon ev’n our enemies,
And much more those who, out of no ill will,
Mistakenly have taken up the rod
Which heaven, they think, has put into their hands.        125
  SEG.  I think I soon shall have to try again—
Sleep has not yet done with me.
  CLO.        Such a sleep.
Take my advice—’tis early yet—the sun
Scarce up above the mountain; go within,        130
And if the night deceived you, try anew
With morning; morning, dreams they say come true.
  SEG.  Oh, rather pray for me a sleep so fast
As shall obliterate dream and waking too.  [Exit into the tower.
  CLO.  So sleep; sleep fast: and sleep away those two        135
Night-potions, and the waking dream between
Which dream thou must believe; and, if to see
Again, poor Segismund! that dream must be.—
And yet, and yet, in these our ghostly lives,
Half night, half day, half sleeping, half awake,        140
How if our waking life, like that of sleep,
Be all a dream in that eternal life
To which we wake not till we sleep in death?
How if, I say, the senses we now trust
For date of sensible comparison,—        145
Ay, ev’n the Reason’s self that dates with them,
Should be in essence or intensity
Hereafter so transcended, and awake
To a perceptive subtlety so keen
As to confess themselves befool’d before,        150
In all that now they will avouch for most?
One man—like this—but only so much longer
As life is longer than a summer’s day,
Believed himself a king upon his throne,
And play’d at hazard with his fellows’ lives,        155
Who cheaply dream’d away their lives to him.
The sailor dream’d of tossing on the flood:
The soldier of his laurels grown in blood:
The lover of the beauty that he knew
Must yet dissolve to dusty residue:        160
The merchant and the miser of his bags
Of finger’d gold; the beggar of his rags:
And all this stage of earth on which we seem
Such busy actors, and the parts we play’d,
Substantial as the shadow of a shade,        165
And Dreaming but a dream within a dream!
  FIFE.  Was it not said, sir,
By some philosopher as yet unborn,
That any chimney-sweep who for twelve hours
Dreams himself king is happy as the king        170
Who dreams himself twelve hours a chimney-sweep?
  CLO.  A theme indeed for wiser heads than yours
To moralize upon—How came you here?—
  FIFE.  Not of my own will, I assure you, sir.
No matter for myself: but I would know        175
About my mistress—I mean, master—
  CLO.        Oh,
Now I remember—Well, your master-mistress
Is well, and deftly on its errand speeds,
As you shall—if you can but hold your tongue.        180
Can you?
  FIFE.        I’d rather be at home adain.
  CLO.  Where you shall be the quicker if while here
You can keep silence.
  FIFE.        I may whistle, then?        185
Which by the virtue of my name I do,
And also as a reasonable test
Of waking sanity—
  CLO.        Well, whistle then;
And for another reason you forgot,        190
That while you whistle, you can chatter not.
Only remember—if you quit this pass—
  FIFE.  (His rhymes are out, or he had call’d it spot)—
  CLO.  A bullet brings you to.
I must forthwith to court to tell the King        195
The issue of this lamentable day,
That buries all his hope in night.  (To Fife.)  Farewell.
  FIFE.        But a moment—but a word!
When shall I see my mis-mas—        200
  CLO.        Be content:
All in good time; and then, and not before,
Never to miss your master any more.  [Exit.
  FIFE.  Such talk of dreaming—dreaming—I begin
To doubt if I be dreaming I am Fife,        205
Who with a lad who call’d herself a boy
Because—I doubt there’s some confusion here—
He wore no petticoat, came on a time
Riding from Muscovy on half a horse,
Who must have dreamt she was a horse entire,        210
To cant me off upon my hinder face
Under this tower, wall-eyed and musket-tongued,
With sentinels a-pacing up and down,
Crying All’s well when all is far from well,
All the day long, and all the night, until        215
I dream—if what is dreaming be not waking—
Of bells a-tolling and processions rolling
With candles, crosses, banners, San-benitos,
Of which I wear the flamy-finingest,
Through streets and places throng’d with fiery faces        220
To some back platform—
Oh, I shall take a fire into my hand
With thinking of my own dear Muscovy—
Only just over that Sierra there,
By which we tumbled headlong into—No-land.        225
Now, if without a bullet after me,
I could but get a peep of my old home—
Perhaps of my own mule to take me there—
All’s still—perhaps the gentlemen within
Are dreaming it is night behind their masks—        230
God send ’em a good nightmare!—Now then—Hark!
Voices—and up the rocks—and armed men
Climbing like cats—Puss in the corner then.  [He hides.
Enter SOLDIERS cautiously up the rocks

  CAPTAIN.  This is the frontier pass, at any rate,
Where Poland ends and Muscovy begins.        235
  SOLDIER.  We must be close upon the tower, I know,
That half way up the mountain lies ensconced.
  CAPT.  How know you that?
  SOL.        He told me so—the Page
Who put us on the scent.        240
  SOL. 2.        And, as I think,
Will soon be here to run it down with us.
  CAPT.  Meantime, our horses on these ugly rocks
Useless, and worse than useless with their clatter—
Leave them behind, with one or two in charge,        245
And softly, softly, softly.

—  There it is!
—There what?—
—        The tower—the fortress—
—        That the tower!—        250
—That mouse-trap! We could pitch it down the rocks
With our own hands.
—        The rocks it hangs among
Dwarf its proportions and conceal its strength;
Larger and stronger than you think.        255
—        No matter;
No place for Poland’s Prince to be shut up in.
At it at once!
  CAPT.        No—no—I tell you wait—
Till those within give signal. For as yet        260
We know not who side with us, and the fort
Is strong in man and musket.
  SOL.        Shame to wait
For odds with such a cause at stake.
  CAPT.        Because        265
Of such a cause at stake we wait for odds—
For if not won at once, for ever lost:
For any long resistance on their part
Would bring Basilio’s force to succour them
Ere we had rescued him we come to rescue.        270
So softly, softly, softly, still—
  A SOLDIER  (discovering FIFE).  Hilloa!

—Hilloa! Here’s some one skulking—
—        Seize and gag him!
—Stab him at once, say I: the only way        275
To make all sure.
—        Hold, every man of you!
And down upon your knees!—Why, ’tis the Prince!
—The Prince!—
—        Oh, I should know him anywhere,        280
And anyhow disguised.
—        But the Prince is chain’d.
—And of a loftier presence—
—        ’Tis he, I tell you;
Only bewilder’d as he was before.        285
God save your Royal Highness! On our knees
Beseech you answer us!
  FIFE.        Just as you please.
Well—’tis this country’s custom, I suppose,
To take a poor man every now and then        290
And set him so the throne; just for the fun
Of tumbling him again into the dirt.
And now my turn is come. ’Tis very pretty.
  SOL.  His wits have been distemper’d with their drugs.
But do you ask him, Captain.        295
  CAPT.  On my knees,
And in the name of all who kneel with me,
I do beseech your Highness answer to
Your royal title.
  FIFE.  Still, just as you please.        300
In my own poor opinion of myself—
But that may all be dreaming, which it seems
Is very much the fashion in this country—
No Polish prince at all, but a poor lad
From Muscovy; where only help me back,        305
I promise never to contest the crown
Of Poland with whatever gentleman
You fancy to set up.

—        From Muscovy?
—A spy then—        310
—        Of Astolfo’s—
—        Spy! a spy
—Hang him at once!
  FIFE.        No, pray don’t dream of that!
  SOL.  How dared you then set yourself up for our Prince Segismund?        315
  FIFE.        I set up!—I like that—
When ’twas yourselves be-siegesmunded me.
  CAPT.  No matter—Look!—The signal from the tower.
Prince Segismund!
  SOL.  (from the tower). Prince Segismund!        320
  CAPT.        All’s well.
Clotaldo safe secured?—
  SOL.  (from the tower). No—by ill luck,
Instead of coming in, as we had look’d for,
He sprang on horse at once, and off at gallop.        325
  CAPT.  To Court, no doubt—a blunder that—And yet
Perchance a blunder that may work as well
As better forethought. Having no suspicion
So will he carry none where his not going
Were of itself suspicious. But of those        330
Within, who side with us?
  SOL.        Oh, one and all
To the last man, persuaded or compell’d.
  CAPT.  Enough: whatever be to be retrieved
No moment to be lost. For though Clotaldo        335
Have no revolt to tell of in the tower,
The capital will soon awake to ours,
And the King’s force come blazing after us.
Where is the Prince?
  SOL.        Within; so fast asleep        340
We woke him not ev’n striking off the chain
We had so cursedly holp bind him with,
Not knowing what we did; but too ashamed
Not to undo ourselves what we had done.
  CAPT.  No matter, nor by whosesoever hands,        345
Provided done. Come; we will bring him forth
Out of that stony darkness here abroad,
Where air and sunshine sooner shall disperse
The sleepy fume which they have drugg’d him with.  (They enter the tower, and thence bring out SEGISMUND asleep on a pallet, and set him in the middle of the stage.)
  CAPT.  Still, still so dead asleep, the very noise        350
And motion that we make in carrying him
Stirs not a leaf in all the living tree.

If living—But if by some inward blow
For ever and irrevocably fell’d
By what strikes deeper to the root than sleep?        355
—He’s dead! He’s dead! They’ve kill’d him—
—        No—he breathes—
And the heart beats—and now he breathes again
Deeply, as one about to shake away
The load of sleep.        360
  CAPT.        Come, let us all kneel round,
And with a blast of warlike instruments,
And acclamation of all loyal hearts,
Rouse and restore him to his royal right,
From which no royal wrong shall drive him more. (They all kneel round his bed: trumpets, drums, etc.)        365

— Segismund! Segismund! Prince Segismund!
—King Segismund! Down with Basilio!
—Down with Astolfo! Segismund our King! etc.
—He stares upon us wildly. He cannot speak.
—I said so—driv’n him mad.        370
—      Speak to him, Captain.
  CAPTAIN.  Oh Royal Segismund, our Prince and King,
Look on us—listen to us—answer us,
Your faithful soldiery and subjects, now
About you kneeling, but on fire to rise        375
And cleave a passage through your enemies,
Until we seat you on your lawful throne.
For though your father, King Basilio,
Now King of Poland, jealous of the stars
That prophesy his setting with your rise,        380
Here holds you ignominiously eclipsed,
And would Astolfo, Duke of Muscovy,
Mount to the throne of Poland after him;
So will not we, your loyal soldiery
And subjects; neither those of us now first        385
Apprised of your existence and your right:
Nor those that hitherto deluded by
Allegiance false, their vizors now fling down,
And craving pardon on their knees with us
For that unconscious disloyalty,        390
Offer with us the service of their blood;
Not only we and they; but at our heels
The heart, if not the bulk, of Poland follows
To join their voices and their arms with ours,
In vindicating with our lives our own        395
Prince Segismund to Poland and her throne.

—Segismund, Segismund, Prince Segismund!
—Our own King Segismund, etc.  (They all rise.)
  SEG.  Again? So soon?—What, not yet done with me?
The sun is little higher up, I think,        400
Than when I last lay down,
To bury in the depth of your own sea
You that infest its shallows.
  CAPT.        Sir!
  SEG.        And now,        405
Not in a palace, not in the fine clothes
We all were in; but here, in the old place,
And in our old accoutrement—
Only your vizors off, and lips unlock’d
To mock me with that idle title—        410
  CAPT.        Nay,
Indeed no idle title, but your own,
Then, now, and now for ever. For, behold,
Ev’n as I speak, the mountain passes fill
And bristle with the advancing soldiery        415
That glitters in your rising glory, sir;
And, at our signal, echo to our cry,
‘Segismund, King of Poland!’ etc.  (Shouts, trumpets, etc.)
  SEG.        Oh, how cheap
The muster of a countless host of shadows,        420
As impotent to do with as to keep!
All this they said before—to softer music.
  CAPT.  Soft music, sir, to what indeed were shadows,
That, following the sunshine of a Court,
Shall back be brought with it—if shadows still,        425
Yet to substantial reckoning.
  SEG.        They shall?
The white-hair’d and white-wanded chamberlain,
So busy with his wand too—the old King
That I was somewhat hard on—he had been        430
Hard upon me—and the fine feather’d Prince
Who crow’d so loud—my cousin,—and another,
Another cousin, we will not bear hard on—
And—But Clotaldo?
  CAPT.        Fled, my lord, but close        435
Pursued; and then—
  SEG.        Then, as he fled before,
And after he had sworn it on his knees,
Came back to take me—where I am!—No more,
No more of this! Away with you! Begone!        440
Whether but visions of ambitious night
That morning ought to scatter, or grown out
Of night’s proportions you invade the day
To scare me from my little wits yet left,
Begone! I know I must be near awake,        445
Knowing I dream; or, if not at my voice,
Then vanish at the clapping of my hands,
Or take this foolish fellow for your sport:
Dressing me up in visionary glories,
Which the first air of waking consciousness        450
Scatters as fast as from the almander— 1
That, waking one fine morning in full flower,
One rougher insurrection of the breeze
Of all her sudden honour disadorns
To the last blossom, and she stands again        455
The winter-naked scare-crow that she was!
  CAPT.  I know not what to do, nor what to say,
With all this dreaming; I begin to doubt
They have driv’n him mad indeed, and he and we
Are lost together.        460
  A SOLDIER  (to CAPTAIN). Stay, stay; I remember—
Hark in your ear a moment.  (Whispers.)
  CAPT.        So—so—so?—
Oh, now indeed I do not wonder, sir,
Your senses dazzle under practices        465
Which treason, shrinking from its own device,
Would now persuade you only was a dream;
But waking was as absolute as this
You wake in now, as some who saw you then,
Prince as you were and are, can testify:        470
Not only saw, but under false allegiance
Laid hands upon—
  SOLDIER 1.        I, to my shame!
  SOLDIER 2.        And I!
  CAPT.  Who, to wipe out that shame, have been the first        475
To stir and lead us—Hark!  (Shouts, trumpets, etc.)
  A SOLDIER.  Our forces, sir,
Challenging King Basilio’s, now in sight,
And bearing down upon us.
  CAPT.        Sir, you hear;        480
A little hesitation and delay,
And all is lost—your own right, and the lives
Of those who now maintain it at that cost;
With you all saved and won; without, all lost.
That former recognition of your right        485
Grant but a dream, if you will have it so;
Great things forecast themselves by shadows great:
Or will you have it, this like that dream too,
People, and place, and time itself, all dream—
Yet, being in’t, and as the shadows come        490
Quicker and thicker than you can escape,
Adopt your visionary soldiery,
Who, having struck a solid chain away,
Now put an airy sword into your hand,
And harnessing you piece-meal till you stand        495
Amidst us all complete in glittering,
If unsubstantial, steel—
  ROSAURA  (without).  The Prince! The Prince!
  CAPT.  Who calls for him?
  SOL.        The Page who spurr’d us hither,        500
And now, dismounted from a foaming horse—

  ROSAURA.  Where is—but where I need no further ask
Where the majestic presence, all in arms,
Mutely proclaims and vindicates himself.
  FIFE.  My darling Lady-lord—        505
  ROS.        My own good Fife,
Keep to my side—and silence!—Oh, my Lord,
For the third time behold me here where first
You saw me, by a happy misadventure
Losing my own way here to find it out        510
For you to follow with these loyal men,
Adding the moment of my little cause
To yours; which, so much mightier as it is,
By a strange chance runs hand in hand with mine;
The self-same foe who now pretends your right,        515
Withholding mine—that, of itself alone,
I know the royal blood that runs in you
Would vindicate, regardless of your own:
The right of injured innocence; and, more,
Spite of this epicene attire, a woman’s;        520
And of a noble stock I will not name
Till I, who brought it, have retrieved the shame.
Whom Duke Astolfo, Prince of Muscovy,
With all the solemn vows of wedlock won,
And would have wedded, as I do believe,        525
Had not the cry of Poland for a Prince
Call’d him from Muscovy to join the prize
Of Poland with the fair Estrella’s eyes.
I, following him hither, as you saw,
Was cast upon these rocks; arrested by        530
Clotaldo: who, for an old debt of love
He owes my family, with all his might
Served, and had served me further, till my cause
Clash’d with his duty to his sovereign,
Which, as became a loyal subject, sir,        535
(And never sovereign had a loyaller,)
Was still his first. He carried me to Court,
Where, for the second time, I cross’d your path;
Where, as I watch’d my opportunity,
Suddenly broke this public passion out;        540
Which, drowning private into public wrong,
Yet swiftlier sweeps it to revenge along.
  SEG.  Oh God, if this be dreaming, charge it not
To burst the channel of enclosing sleep
And drown the waking reason! Not to dream        545
Only what dreamt shall once or twice again
Return to buzz about the sleeping brain
Till shaken off for ever—
But reassailing one so quick, so thick—
The very figure and the circumstance        550
Of sense-confess’d reality foregone
In so-call’d dream so palpably repeated,
The copy so like the original,
We know not which is which; and dream so-call’d
Itself inweaving so inextricably        555
Into the tissue of acknowledged truth;
The very figures that empeople it
Returning to assert themselves no phantoms
In something so much like meridian day,
And in the very place that not my worst        560
And veriest disenchanter shall deny
For the too well-remember’d theatre
Of my long tragedy—Strike up the drums!
If this be Truth, and all of us awake,
Indeed a famous quarrel is at stake:        565
If but a Vision I will see it out,
And, drive the Dream, I can but join the rout.
  CAPT.  And in good time, sir, for a palpable
Touchstone of truth and rightful vengeance too,
Here is Clotaldo taken.        570
  SOLDIERS.        In with him!
In with the traitor!  (Clotaldo brought in.)
  SEG.        Ay, Clotaldo, indeed—
Himself—in his old habit—his old self—
What! back again, Clotaldo, for a while        575
To swear me this for truth, and afterwards
All for a dreaming lie?
  CLO.        Awake or dreaming,
Down with that sword, and down these traitors theirs,
Drawn in rebellion ’gainst their Sovereign.        580
  SEG.  (about to strike). Traitor! Traitor yourself!—
But soft—soft—soft!—
You told me, not so very long ago,
Awake or dreaming—I forget—my brain
Is not so clear about it—but I know        585
One test you gave me to discern between,
Which mad and dreaming people cannot master;
Or if the dreamer could, so best secure
A comfortable waking—Was’t not so?—
(To ROSAURA). Needs not your intercession now, you see,        590
As in the dream before—
Clotaldo, rough old nurse and tutor too
That only traitor wert, to me if true—
Give him his sword; set him on a fresh horse;
Conduct him safely through my rebel force;        595
And so God speed him to his sovereign’s side!
Give me your hand; and whether all awake
Or all a-dreaming, ride, Clotaldo, ride—
Dream-swift—for fear we dreams should overtake.

(A Battle may be supposed to take place; after which)
Note 1. Almander, or almandre, Chaucer’s word for almond-tree, Rom. Rose, 1363. [back]


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