Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Waddington, ed. > The Sonnets of Europe
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Samuel Waddington, comp.  The Sonnets of Europe.  1888.
 
The World’s a Stage
By Tommaso Campanella (1568–1639)
 
Translated by John Addington Symonds

THE WORLD’S 1 a theatre: age after age,
  Souls masked and muffled in their fleshly gear
  Before the supreme audience appear,
  As Nature, God’s own Art, appoints the stage.
Each plays the part that is his heritage;        5
  From choir to choir they pass, from sphere to sphere,
  And deck themselves with joy or sorry cheer,
  As Fate the comic playwright fills the page.
None do or suffer, be they cursed or blest,
  Aught otherwise than the great Wisdom wrote        10
  To gladden each and all who gave Him mirth,
When we at last to sea or air or earth
  Yielding these masks that weal or woe denote,
  In God shall see who spoke and acted best.
 
Note 1. Giovanni Domenico Campanella was born in the year 1568 at Stilo, in Calabria. “His keen interest in philosophy,” writes Mr. J. A. Symonds, “and his admiration for the great Dominican doctors, Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus, induced him, at the age of fifteen, to enter the Order of St. Dominic, exchanging his secular name for Tommaso. But the old alliance between philosophy and orthodoxy, drawn up by scholasticism and approved by the mediæval church, had been succeeded by mutual hostility; and the youthful thinker found no favour in the cloister of Cosenza, where he now resided. The new philosophy taught by Telesio placed itself in direct antagonism to the pseudo-Aristotelian tenets of the theologians, and founded its own principles upon the Interrogation of Nature. Telesio, says Bacon, was the prince of the novi homines, or inaugurators of modern thought. It was natural that Campanella should be drawn towards this great man.” And the result was that he became “an object of suspicion to his brethren,… his papers was seized at Bologna; and at Rome the Holy Inquisition condemned him to perpetual incarceration, on the ground that he derived his science from the devil, that he had written the book, De tribus Impostoribus, that he was a follower of Democritus, and that his opposition to Aristotle savoured of gross heresy…. Though nothing was proved against him, Campanella was held a prisoner under the sentence which the Inquisition had pronounced upon him. For twenty-five years he remained in Neapolitan dungeons; three times during that period he was tortured to the verge of dying; and at last he was released, whilst quite an old man, at the urgent request of the French Court. Not many years after his liberation Campanella died.”
  His sonnets are remarkable for their depth of thought and clearness of vision, although they are by no means free from the prevailing errors of the age in which he lived. Truth and Nature, the handmaidens of philosophy, mainly formed the subject of his verse; and as he indicates in his sonnet “To the Poets,” he preferred “sound sense to idle lays,” “beauty to paint and dress.” In his own words—
  “That tale alone is worth the pondering
  Which hath not smothered history in lies,
  And arms the soul against each sinful thing.”
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