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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Dreams and Realities

By Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–1681)

  • From ‘Such Stuff as Dreams are Made Of’: Edward Fitzgerald’s version of ‘La Vida Es Sueno’
  • [The scene is a tower. Clotaldo is persuading Segismund that his experiences have not been real, but dreams, and discusses the possible relation of existence to a state of dreaming. The play itself is based on the familiar motif of which Christopher Sly furnishes a ready example.]

  • Clotaldo—PRINCES and princesses and counselors,

    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;

    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.
    Segismund—Ay, I did indeed.

    Clotaldo—Ev’n your eyes stare wild; your hair stands up—

    Your pulses throb and flutter, reeling still

    Under the storm of such a dream—
    Segismund—A dream!

    That seem’d as swearable reality

    As what I wake in now.
    Clotaldo—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.

    Segismund—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.

    Segismund—Ay; and even told me of the very stars

    You tell me hereof—how in spite of them,

    I was enlarged to all that glory.

    By the false spirits’ nice contrivance, thus

    A little truth oft leavens all the false,

    The better to delude us.
    Segismund—For you know

    ’Tis nothing but a dream?
    Clotaldo—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?

    Segismund—Never, to such reality.
    Clotaldo—Such dreams

    Are oftentimes the sleeping exhalations

    Of that ambition that lies smoldering

    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 heav’n 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.

    Segismund—Last night? Last night?
    Clotaldo—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 burned about him, while with poising wings

    He darkled in it as a burning brand

    Is seen to smolder in the fire it feeds?

    Segismund—Last night—last night—Oh, what a day was that

    Between that last night and this sad to-day!
    Clotaldo—And yet perhaps

    Only some few dark moments, into which

    Imagination, once lit up within

    And unconditional of time and space,

    Can pour infinities.
    Segismund—And I remember

    How the old man they call’d the King, who wore

    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,

    Bade me beware lest all should be a dream.

    Clotaldo—Ay—there another specialty of dreams,

    That once the dreamer ’gins to dream he dreams,

    His foot is on the very verge of waking.

    Segismund—Would that it had been on the verge of death

    That knows no waking—

    Lifting me up to glory, to fall back,

    Stunned, crippled—wretcheder than ev’n before.

    Clotaldo—Yet not so glorious, Segismund, if you

    Your visionary honor wore so ill

    As to work murder and revenge on those

    Who meant you well.

    Segismund—Who meant me!—me! their Prince,

    Chain’d like a felon—
    Clotaldo—Stay, stay—Not so fast.

    You dream’d the Prince, remember.
    Segismund—Then in dream

    Revenged it only.
    Clotaldo—True. But as they say

    Dreams are rough copies of the waking soul

    Yet uncorrected of the higher Will,

    So that men sometimes in their dream 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,

    And ill reacts upon the waking day.

    And, by the by, for one test, Segismund,

    Between such swearable realities—

    Since dreaming, madness, passion, are akin

    In missing each that salutary rein

    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

    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.

    Segismund—I think I soon shall have to try again—

    Sleep has not yet done with me.
    Clotaldo—Such a sleep!

    Take my advice—’tis early yet—the sun

    Scarce up above the mountain; go within,

    And if the night deceived you, try anew

    With morning; morning dreams they say come true.

    Segismund—Oh, rather pray for me a sleep so fast

    As shall obliterate dream and waking too.[Exit into the tower.

    Clotaldo—So sleep; sleep fast: and sleep away those two

    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,

    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,—

    Ay, ev’n the Reason’s self that dates with them,

    Should be in essence of intensity

    Hereafter so transcended, and awoke

    To a perceptive subtlety so keen

    As to confess themselves befool’d before,

    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,

    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:

    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,

    And Dreaming but a dream within a dream!