What is the central complaint that underlines Ralegh’s poem “What is our Life”?
I appreciated a lot this week Ralegh’s reflective poem “What is our life?” because it transmits a personal view of what life can be through the use of a metaphor. I really appreciate those kind of poems that bring us to reflect and reason about life issues and from which I always extract some precious ideas. Walter Ralegh, an unknown Poet to me before our last class, seems to draw, in most of his works as for example in the poem “the Lie”, the reader’s attention to the meaning and concept of life.
He opens the poem asking himself, or asking us readers: ” What is our life? a play of passion” comparing in this way life to a play of passion or a short comedy. Going on with the reading, Ralegh compares a man’s happiness to periods of struggle and suffering.
” Our graves that hide us from the searching sun
Are like drawn curtains when the play is done.”
In other words, drawing the curtains symbolizes man’s death. Death is considered to be the eternal rest. It frees man from the weariness and suffering of life.
I think that what Ralegh is trying to convey to us is the fact that dramatic performance is fanciful and unrealistic, but death is an inevitable fact, something we cannot escape.
The poet is creating a conceptual image which shows the brevity of earthly life and shows how human beings are seen like actors who perform certain roles.
This idea is inevitably associated to Shakespeare’s idea of how the world is to him just a stage of a play. In his work “As you Like it” he writes:
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages[…]”
Death is the only inevitable fact, and Ralegh description makes me a bit sad. We don’t often think about it, because we are perhaps afraid when that moment will arrive. But Ralegh made me understand that it is just something we have to accept and admit to ourselves.
This poem made me also remember one Italian poet, that you all probably have heard about, Giacomo Leopardi. He is famous for writing about death as opposed to happiness. In the “Zibaldone” (1832), which is his personal recollection of all of his thoughts and reflections (4526 pages!!) the modern view of pain is opposed to the old one: if before it was interpreted as a divine punishment, it is now seen as a fixed element of man’s life, a necessary evil that we must resign ourselves to. It is therefore clear that, contrary to the life dominated by pain and illness, death takes positive connotations and must be accepted as a matter of fact.
There are many other authors that I would like to quote, who wrote interesting thoughts about this theme, such as Marcel Proust, Honoré De Balzac, Manzoni, Ugo Foscolo but this blog post would get too long, so maybe in another occasion 🙂
“Death is not an evil, because it frees us from all evils, and while it takes away good things, it takes away also the desire for them. Old age is the supreme evil, because it deprives us of all pleasures, leaving us only the appetite for them, and it brings with it all sufferings. Nevertheless, we fear death, and we desire old age.”