The poetic conceit that life may be compared to a work of art -- most commonly, a play -- is an old one: Shakespeare's "all the world's a stage" being perhaps the best-known example. But Sir Walter Raleigh tried his hand at the comparison as well: "What is our life? A play of passion . . ." As, later, did Walter Savage Landor:
Alas, how soon the hours are over,
Counted us out to play the lover!
And how much narrower is the stage,
Allotted us to play the sage!
But when we play the fool, how wide
The theatre expands; beside,
How long the audience sits before us!
How many prompters! what a chorus!
John Forster (editor), The Works of Walter Savage Landor (1846).
The conceit continues to be visited in our time, and is often expanded to include novels, movies, and other entertainments. The following poem is by James Simmons (1933-2001).
Written, Directed by and Starring . . .
The scripts I used to write for the young actor --
me -- weren't used. And now I couldn't play
the original parts and, as director,
I'd turn myself, if I applied, away.
My break will come; but now the star's mature
his parts need character and 'love' is out.
He learns to smile on birth and death, to endure:
it's strange I keep the old scripts lying about.
Looking them over I've at times forgot
they've never been put on. I seem to spend
too much time reading through a final shot
where massed choirs sing, they kiss, and then THE END.
It's hard to start upon this middle phase
when my first period never reached the screen,
and there's no end now to my new screen-plays,
they just go on from scene to scene to scene.
The hero never hogs the screen because
his wife, his children, friends, events intrude.
When he's not on the story doesn't pause --
not if he dies. I don't see why it should.
James Simmons, Late But In Earnest (1967).
The Wharf, Sutton Courtenay" (1925)