Paul Archer - photo Paul Archer - poet, translator



We have to die

O how wrong you are
to think that time
won’t come to an end,
we have to die.

Life is but a dream,
a pleasure
that’s briefly enjoyed,
we have to die.
Of no avail is medicine,
of no use is quinine,
we cannot be cured,
we have to die.

It’s no use berating,
threatening, the bravado
that hardens our ardour,
we must die.
No doctrine that's of use
can find the words
to allay our ardour,
we have to die.

We can’t find a way
to untie this knot,
it’s useless to escape,
we must die.
It’s the same for all,
being clever doesn't protect
us from being struck down,
we must die.

Heartless death
betrays us all,
shames each of us,
die we must.
If all we do is rage
and rant our heads off,
it’s like telling lies,
die we must.

We die when singing,
we die when playing
the zither, the bagpipe,
die we must.
We die when dancing,
drinking and eating;
trapped in our bodies,
die we must.

Youngsters and kids
and all of humanity
must end in dust,
we have to die.
The healthy, the sick,
the brave, the helpless,
all come to an end,
we have to die.

And when you least
expect it, you will
come to your end,
we have to die.
If you don’t agree,
you’ve lost your wits,
you’ve died, so you can say:
we have to die.

English translation by Paul Archer of the text of Bisogna morire by Stefano Landi (1587-1639). The full title is 'La Passacaglia della Vita'. A passacaglia is a musical form of Spanish origin with a succession of variations on a ground bass. The name comes from the Spanish 'passare la calle' or 'going down the road' which suggests its origin in the music of wandering minstrels.
See the copyright notice below.

Bisogna morire

Oh come t'inganni
se pensi che gl'anni
non hann' da finire,
bisogna morire.

È un sogno la vita
che par sì gradita,
è breve gioire,
bisogna morire.
Non val medicina,
non giova la China,
non si può guarire,
bisogna morire.

Non vaglion sberate,
minarie, bravate
che caglia l'ardire,
bisogna morire.
Dottrina che giova,
parola non trova
che plachi l'ardire,
bisogna morire.

Non si trova modo
di scoglier 'sto nodo,
non val il fuggire,
bisogna morire.
Commun'è statuto,
non vale l'astuto
'sto colpo schermire,
bisogna morire.

La morte crudele
a tutti è infedele,
ogn'uno svergogna,
morire bisogna.
È pur ò pazzia
o gran frenesia,
par dirsi menzogna,
morire bisogna.

Si more cantando,
si more sonando
la Cetra, o Sampogna,
morire bisogna.
Si muore danzando,
bevendo, mangiando;
con quella carogna
morire bisogna.

I Giovani, i putti
e gl'Huomini tutti
s'hann'a incenerire,
bisogna morire.
I sani, gl'infermi,
i bravi, gl'inermi
tutt'hann'a finire,
bisogna morire.

E quando che meno
ti pensi, nel seno
ti vien a finire,
bisogna morire.
Se tu non vi pensi
hai persi li sensi,
sei morto e puoi dire:
bisogna morire.

Copyright notice. The translation is provided as an aid to musicians and audiences. Publication of the translation in print or digital formats is expressly forbidden unless permission from the author has been first obtained and acknowledgement of authorship is duly made. Permission will usually be granted so please contact Paul Archer with details of how you wish to make use of the translation.

For more translations into English of early music texts, go to:
Translations of early music texts.

© Paul Archer - All Rights Reserved