The play is Life; and this round earth,
The narrow stage whereon
We act before an audience
Of actors dead and gone.
There is a figure in the wings
That never goes away,
And though I cannot see his face,
I shudder while I play.
His shadow looms behind me here,
Or capers at my side;
And when I mouth my lines in dread,
Those scornful lips deride.
Sometimes a hooting laugh breaks out,
And startles me alone;
While all my fellows, wondering
At my stage-fright, play on.
I fear that when my Exit comes,
I shall encounter there,
Stronger than fate, or time, or love,
And sterner than despair,
The Final Critic of the craft,
As stage tradition tells;
And yet–perhaps ’twill only be
The jester with his bells.