The Life of Man

By Sir Frances Bacon

Sir Frances BaconThe Life of Man is a poem by Sir Francis Bacon which I came upon in reading his works. I found it to be a somewhat pessimistic view of the human condition, whereby, he seems to be saying that no matter what circumstance man finds himself in, he is never satisfied; that there is always something else to be longed for and missing. Ultimately we all die anyway, so what's the point?

Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was a philosopher, statesman, essayist and known in his circle of nobility as a 'concealed poet'. He was one of the last and greatest of renaissance men.

Many prominent writers and poets of his time revered and held him in awe. Years later Thomas Carlyle would say that he was one of the few who could "converse with this universe, first hand".

Samuel Jonson said of Bacon; "A dictionary of the English language might be compiled from Bacon's works alone."

As a philosopher, Bacon argued that the only knowledge of importance to man was empirically rooted in the natural world and that a probe through scientific inquiry would assure man's dominance over that world. It was Francis Bacon who originated the expression "Knowledge is power".

Unfortunately, despite his brilliance, Bacon's life was not without scandal and controversy. His slow rise to political power and its sudden fall was that of a Greek tragedy. As Lord Chancellor of England, he was impeached by Parliament for taking bribes in office, convicted, and banished from London.

As I endeavor to present poems from as many perspectives as possible here then is:

The Life of Man

The world's a bubble; and the life of man less than a span.
In his conception wretched; from the womb so to the tomb:
Curst from the cradle, and brought up to years, with cares and fears.
Who then to frail mortality shall trust,
But limns the water, or but writes in dust.
Yet, since with sorrow here we live oppress'd, what life is best?
Courts are but only superficial schools to dandle fools:
The rural parts are turn'd into a den of savage men:
And where's a city from all vice so free,
But may be term'd 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:
Some would have children; those that have them none; or wish them gone.
What is it then to have no wife, but single thralldom or a double strife?
Our own affections still at home to please, is a disease:
To cross the sea to any foreign soil, perils and toil:
Wars with their noise affright us: when they cease,
We are worse in peace:
What then remains, but that we still should cry,
Not to be born, or being born, to die.

See also:
Francis Bacon The Philosopher
Francis Bacon Quotes