On The Life of Man

On The Life of Man

by Sir Walter Ralegh

What is our life? a play of passion,
Our mirth the musicke of division,
Our mothers wombes the tyring houses be,
When we are drest for this short Comedy,
Heaven the Judicious sharpe spector is,
That sits and markes still who doth act amisse,
Our graves that hide us from the searching Sun,
Are like drawne curtaynes when the play is done,
Thus march we playing to our latest rest,
Onely we dye in earnest, that’s no Jest.

Summary of On The Life of Man

  • Popularity of “On the Life of Man”: This poem was written by Sir Walter Ralegh, a great English poet. On the Life of Man is one of the heart-touching literary pieces with the themes of life and death. The poem has touched hearts across the globe. This short, yet mesmerizing piece revolves around the stages of life similar to Shakespeare’s poem, The Seven Ages Of Man. It beautifully illustrates the fragility and brevity of man’s life. Its popularity, however, lies in the fact that no matter how far we go in our life, we can never escape death.
  • “On The Life of Man” As a Representative of Man’s Life: This beautiful piece reflects the cycle of man’s life. The poem illustrates that we are sent to this world to perform certain roles. The poem begins with a rhetorical question about the reality of life. The poet compares life with a play of passion. To perform this short comedy, the actors are prepared in the mother’s womb. While humans play this meaningless comedy, God sits and notices our behavior; He keeps a strict eye if anyone of us skips anything.
    Ironically, after performing our insignificant roles, we lie in our graves. He compares graves with the curtain that falls when the play is done. Thus, the actors do not temporarily disappear; rather, they leave for eternal abode. What, however, stays in the minds of the readers is the way he explains the transience of life in a light-hearted way and makes it clear that humans are destined to die.
  • Major Themes in “On the Life of Man”: The nothingness of life, inevitability of death, and life as a comedy are the major themes of the poem. The poet beautifully accounts for the stages of man’s life, comparing it with a short comedy. Life is not more than a drama as it follows a certain order. By comparing life with a comic play, the poet argues that, unlike stage, life also provides us a platform where we perform our set roles and exit once we perform our part. The only difference is that the actors only disappear from the stage, but humans disappear from the face of the earth with their death, which is not a joke.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “On the Life of Man”

literary devices are powerful tools that poets use to present their feelings and ideas in a better way. Sir Walter Ralegh has also used some literary devices in this poem. The analysis of the literary devices used in this poem is given below.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /ee/ in “Onely we dye in earnest, that’s no Jest” and the sound of /e/ in “When we are drest for this short Comedy.”
  2. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession such as the sound of /m/ in “Our mirth the musicke of division” and the sound of /s/ in “Our graves that hide us from the searching Sun”.
  3. Allegory: It is a figure of speech in which abstract ideas and principles are described in terms of characters, figures, and events. This is an allegoric literary piece that talks about the set roles of human as well as their definite end.
  4. Irony: Irony is a figure of speech in which words are used in such a way that their intended meaning is different from the actual meaning of the words. For example, in the opening lines of the poem where he calls man’s life a comedy.

“Our mothers wombes the tyring houses be,
When we are drest for this short Comedy.”

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “Our mothers wombes the tyring houses be”, “Heaven the Judicious sharpe spector is” and “Our graves that hide us from the searching Sun.”
  2. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects that are different in nature. The poet compares “mother’s womb” with a place where actors get dressed up. He has also compared “graves” with the curtain that falls when the play on theatre reaches its final point. For example, “Our graves that hide us from the searching Sun, Are like drawne curtaynes when the play is done.”

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “On The Life of Man”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. For example, “Sun/done”, “rest/jest” and “passion/division.”
  2. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows an ABAB rhyme scheme and this pattern continues from the start until the end.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below can be used in motivational speech while talking about the nature of unavoidable death.

“Our graves that hide us from the searching Sun,
Are like drawne curtaynes when the play is done.”