20 May 2013

What Is Life?

Thomas de Quincey, "The Household Wreck," in The Collected Writings of Thomas de Quincey, ed. David Masson, Vol. XII (London: A & C Black, 1896), p. 158:
What is life? Darkness and formless vacancy for a beginning, or something beyond all beginning; then next a dim lotos of human consciousness, finding itself afloat upon the bosom of waters without a shore; then a few sunny smiles and many tears; a little love and infinite strife; whisperings from paradise and fierce mockeries from the anarchy of chaos; dust and ashes; and once more darkness circling round, as if from the beginning, and in this way rounding or making an island of our fantastic existence; that is human life; that the inevitable amount of man's laughter and his tears — of what he suffers and he does — of his motions this way and that way, to the right or to the left, backwards or forwards — of all his seeming realities and all his absolute negations — his shadowy pomps and his pompous shadows — of whatsoever he thinks, finds, makes or mars, creates or animates, loves, hates, or in dread hope anticipates. So it is, so it has been, so it will be, for ever and ever.
Thomas Carlyle answers the same question in verse.