Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Elizabethan Verse
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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Elizabethan Verse.  1907.
 
The World
By Francis Bacon (1561–1626)
 
THE WORLD’S 1 a bubble; and the life of Man
            Less than a span:
In his conception wretched—from the womb
            So to the tomb;
Curst from his cradle, and brought up to years        5
            With cares and fears.
Who then to frail mortality shall trust
But limns on water, or but writes in dust.
 
Yet whilst with sorrow here we live opprest,
            What life is best?        10
Courts are but only superficial schools
            To dandle fools;
The rural part is turned into a den
            Of savage men;
And where’s a city from foul vice so free        15
But may be termed the worst of all the three?
 
Domestic cares afflict the husband’s bed,
            Or pains his head:
Those that live single take it for a curse,
            Or do things worse:        20
These would have children; those that have them moan
            Or wish them gone:
What is it then, to have, or have no wife,
But single thraldom, or a double strife?
 
Our own affections still at home to please,        25
            Is a disease;
To cross the seas to any foreign soil,
            Peril and toil;
Wars with their noise affright us; when they cease
            We’re worse in peace:        30
—What then remains, but that we still should cry
For being born, or, being born, to die?
 
Note 1. From Reliquiæ Wottonianæ, 1651. This poem was signed “Ignoto” in the first ed. It was first ascribed to Bacon in Farnaby’s Florilegium, 1629, and has elsewhere been ascribed to Raleigh, Donne, and Henry Harrinton. The evidences of Bacon’s authorship are briefly stated in Dr. Hannah’s Courtly Poets, ed. 1870, p. 117. The poem is paraphrased from a Greek epigram variously attributed to Poseidippus, to the comic poet, Plato, and to Crates, the. lyric poet, beginning:
  [Greek]
(Anthol. Græca, ix. 359.)    
A literal translation of this epigram reads: “What path in life shall a person cut through! In the forum are quarrels and difficult suits; at home cares; in the fields enough of toils; in the sea fright; in a foreign land fear, if you have anything; but if you are in a difficulty, vexation. Have you a wife? you will not be without anxiety. Are you unmarried? you live still more solitary. Children are troubles. If childless life is a maimed condition. Youth is thoughtless. Gray hairs are strengthless. There is a choice of one of these two things, either never to have been born, or to die as soon as born.” (Bohn.) Several other Elizabethan poets have made translations or paraphrases of the epigram. The opening couplet of three of these are:

  At least with that Greek sage still make us cry
Not to be born, or, being born, to die.
(Bishop King.)    
  
Who would not one of these two offers choose:
Not to be born, or breath with speed to lose.
(Sir John Beaumont.)    
  
Who would not one of these two offers try,—
Not to be born, or being born, to die?
(Drummond of Hawthornden.)    
 
 
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