Of The Four Ages Of Man

A poem by Anne Bradstreet

Lo now four other act upon the stage,
Childhood and Youth the Manly & Old age;
The first son unto flegm, Grand-child to water,
Unstable, supple, cold and moist's his nature.
The second frolick, claims his pedegree
From blood and air, for hot and moist is he.
The third of fire and Choler is compos'd,
Vindicative and quarrelsome dispos'd.
The last of earth, and heavy melancholy,
Solid, hating all lightness and all folly.
Childhood was cloth'd in white & green to show
His spring was intermixed with some snow:
Upon his head nature a Garland set
Of Primrose, Daizy & the Violet.
Such cold mean flowrs the spring puts forth betime
Before the sun hath throughly heat the clime.
His hobby striding did not ride but run,
And in his hand an hour-glass new begun,
In danger every moment of a fall,
And when tis broke then ends his life and all:
But if he hold till it have run its last,
Then may he live out threescore years or past.
Next Youth came up in gorgeous attire,
(As that fond age doth most of all desire)
His Suit of Crimson and his scarfe of green,
His pride in's countenance was quickly seen;
Garland of roses, pinks and gilli-flowers
Seemed on's head to grow bedew'd with showers:
His face as fresh as is Aurora fair,
When blushing she first 'gins to light the air.
No wooden horse, but one of mettal try'd,
He seems to fly or swim, and not to ride.
Then prancing on the stage, about he wheels,
But as he went death waited at his heels.
The next came up in a much graver sort,
As one that cared for a good report,
His sword by's side, and choler in his eyes,
But neither us'd as yet, for he was wise:
Of Autumns fruits a basket on his arm,
His golden God in's purse, which was his charm.
And last of all to act upon this stage
Leaning upon his staff came up Old Age,
Under his arm a sheaf of wheat he bore,
An harvest of the best, what needs he more?
In's other hand a glass ev'n almost run,
Thus writ about This out then am I done.
His hoary hairs, and grave aspect made way;
And all gave ear to what he had to say.
These being met each in his equipage
Intend to speak, according to their age:
But wise Old age did with all gravity
To childish Childhood give precedency;
And to the rest his reason mildly told,
That he was young before he grew so old.
To do as he each one full soon assents,
Their method was that of the Elements,
That each should tell what of himself he knew,
Both good and bad, but yet no more then's true.
With heed now stood three ages of frail man,
To hear the child, who crying thus began:


Childhood.

Ah me! conceiv'd in sin, and born with sorrow,
A nothing, here to day, but gone to morrow,
Whose mean beginning blushing can't reveal,
But night and darkeness must with shame conceal.
My mothers breeding sickness, I will spare;
Her nine months weary burthen not declare.
To shew her bearing pains, I should do wrong,
To tell those pangs which can't be told by tongue:
With tears into the world I did arrive,
My mother still did waste as I did thrive,
Who yet with love and all alacrity,
Spending, was willing to be spent for me.
With wayward cryes I did disturb her rest,
Who sought still to appease me with the breast:
With weary arms she danc'd and By By sung,
When wretched I ingrate had done the wrong.
When infancy was past, my childishnesse
Did act all folly that it could express,
My silliness did only take delight
In that which riper age did scorn and slight.
In Rattles, Baubles and such toyish stuff,
My then ambitious thoughts were low enough:
My high-born soul so straightly was confin'd,
That its own worth it did not know nor mind:
This little house of flesh did spacious count,
Through ignorance all troubles did surmount;
Yet this advantage had mine ignorance
Freedom from envy and from arrogance,
How to be rich or great I did not cark,
A Baron or a Duke ne'r made my mark,
Nor studious was Kings favours how to buy,
With costly presence or base flattery:
No office coveted wherein I might
Make strong my self and turn aside weak right:
No malice bare to this or that great Peer,
Nor unto buzzing whisperers gave ear:
I gave no hand nor vote for death or life,
I'd nought to do 'twixt King and peoples strife.
No Statist I, nor Martilist in'th field,
Where ere I went mine innocence was shield.
My quarrels not for Diadems did rise,
But for an apple, plumb, or some such prize;
My strokes did cause no blood no wounds or skars,
My little wrath did end soon as my Warrs:
My Duel was no challeng, nor did seek.
My foe should weltring in his bowels reek.
I had no suits at law neighbours to vex,
Nor evidence for lands did me perplex.
I fear'd no storms, nor all the wind that blowes,
I had no ships at sea, nor fraights to loose.
I fear'd no drought nor wet, I had no crop,
Nor yet on future things did set my hope.
This was mine innocence, but ah! the seeds,
Lay raked up of all the cursed weeds
Which sprouted forth in mine ensuing age,
As he can tel that next comes on the stage:
But yet let me relate, before I go
The sins and dangers I am subject to,
Stained from birth with Adams sinfull fact,
Thence I began to sin as soon as act:
A perverse will, a love to what's forbid,
A serpents sting in pleasing face lay hid:
A lying tougue as soon as it could speak,
And fifth Commandment do daily break.
Oft stubborn, peevish, sullen, pout and cry,
Then nought can please, and yet I know not why.
As many are my sins, so dangers too;
For sin brings sorrow, sickness death and woe:
And though I miss the tossings of the mind,
Yet griefs in my frail flesh I stilt do find.
What gripes of wind mine infancy did pain,
What tortures I in breeding teeth sustain?
What crudityes my stomack cold hath bred,
Whence vomits, flux and worms have issued?
What breaches, knocks and falls I daily have,
And some perhaps I carry to my grave.
Sometimes in fire, sometimes in water fall:
Strangely presev'd, yet mind it not at all:
At home, abroad my dangers manifold,
That wonder tis, my glass till now doth hold.
I've done; unto my elders I give way,
For tis but little that a child can say.


Youth.

My goodly cloathing, and my beauteous skin
Declare some greater riches are within:
But what is best I'le first present to view,
And then the worst in a more ugly hue:
For thus to doe we on this stage assemble,
Then let not him that hath most craft dissemble.
My education and my learning such,
As might my self and others profit much;
With nurture trained up in virtues schools
Of science, arts and tongues I know the rules,
The manners of the court I also know,
And so likewise what they in'th Country doe;
The brave attempts of valiant knights I prize,
That dare scale walls and forts rear'd to the skies.
The snorting Horse, the trumpet, Drum I like,
The glitt'ring Sword, the Pistol and the Pike:
I cannot lye intrench'd before a town,
Nor wait till good success our hopes doth crown:
I scorn the heavy Corslet, musket-proof:
I fly to catch the bullet that's aloof.
Though thus in field, at home to all most kind,
So affable, that I can suit each mind.
I can insinuate into the breast,
And by my mirth can raise the heart deprest:
Sweet musick raps my brave harmonious soul,
My high thoughts elevate beyond the pole:
My wit, my bounty, and my courtesie,
Make all to place their future hopes on me.
This is my best, but Youth is known, Alas!
To be as wild as is the snuffing Ass:
As vain as froth, as vanity can be,
That who would see vain man, may look on me.
My gifts abus'd, my education lost,
My wofull Parents longing hopes are crost,
My wit evaporates in merriment,
My valour in some beastly quarrell's spent:
My lust doth hurry me to all that's ill:
I know no law nor reason but my will.
Sometimes lay wait to take a wealthy purse,
Or stab the man in's own defence (that's worse)
Sometimes I cheat (unkind) a female heir,
Of all at once, who not so wise as fair
Trusteth my loving looks and glozing tongue,
Until her friends, treasure and honour's gone.
Sometimes I sit carousing others health,
Until mine own be gone, my wit and wealth
From pipe to pot, from pot to words, and blows,
For he that loveth wine, wanteth no woes;
Whole nights with Ruffins, Roarers Fidlers spend,
To all obscenity mine ears I lend.
All Counsell hate, which tends to make me wise,
And dearest friends count for mine enemies.
If any care I take tis to be fine,
For sure my suit, more then my vertues shine
If time from leud Companions I can spare,
'Tis spent to curle, and pounce my new-bought hair.
Some new Adonis I do strive to be;
Sardanapalus now survives in me.
Cards, Dice, and Oathes, concomitant I love;
To playes, to masques, to taverns still I move.
And in a word, if what I am you'd hear,
Seek out a Brittish bruitish Cavaleer:
Such wretch, such Monster am I but yet more,
I have no heart at all this to deplore,
Remembring not the dreadfull day of doom,
Nor yet that heavy reckoning soon to come.
Though dangers do attend me every hour,
And gastly Death oft threats me with his power,
Sometimes by wounds in idle Combates taken,
Sometimes with Agues all my body shaken;
Sometimes by fevers, all my moisture drinking,
My heart lies frying, & mine eyes are sinking;
Sometimes the Quinsey, painfull Pleurisie,
With sad affrights of death doth menace me;
Sometimes the two fold Pox me fore be-marrs
With outward marks, & inward loathsome scarrs;
Sometimes the Phrenzy strangly mads my brain,
That oft for it in Bedlam I remain.
Too many my diseases to recite,
That wonder tis, I yet behold the light,
That yet my bed in darkness is not made,
And I in black oblivions Den now laid.
Of aches full my bones, of woe my heart,
Clapt in that prison, never thence to start.
Thus I have said, and what I've been, you see
Childhood and Youth are vain ye vanity.


Middle Age.

Childhood and Youth (forgot) I've sometimes seen
And now am grown more staid who have been green
What they have done, the same was done by me,
As was their praise or shame, so mine must be.
Now age is more; more good you may expect,
But more mine age, the more is my defect.
But what's of worth, your eyes shall first behold,
And then a world of drosse among my gold.
When my wilde oates were sown & ripe and mown
I then receiv'd an harvest of mine own.
My reason then bad judge how little hope
My empty seed should yield a better crop:
Then with both hands I graspt the world together,
Thus out of one extream into another:
But yet laid hold on virtue seemingly,
Who climbs without hold climbs dangerously:
Be my condition mean, I then take pains
My Family to keep, but not for gains.
A Father I, for children must provide;
But if none, then for kindred near ally'd.
If rich, I'm urged then to gather more,
To bear a part i'th' world, and feed the poor.
If noble, then mine honour to maintain,
If not, riches nobility can gain.
For time, for place, likewise for each Relation,
I wanted not, my ready allegation.
Yet all my powers for self ends are not spent,
For hundreds bless me for my bounty lent.
Whose backs I've cloth'd, and bellyes I have fed;
With mine own fleece, & with my houshold bread.
Yea, justice have I done, was I in place,
To chear the good, and wicked to deface.
The proud I crush't, th' oppressed I set free,
The lyars curb'd but nourisht verity.
Was I a Pastor, I my Flock did feed,
And gently lead the Lambs as they had need.
A Captain I, with Skill I train'd my Band,
And shew'd them how in face of Foes to stand.
A Souldier I, with speed I did obey
As readily, as could my leader say.
Was I a labourer, I wrought all day
As cheerfully as e're I took my pay.
Thus hath mine Age in all sometimes done well,
Sometimes again, mine Age been worse then Hell.
In meanness, greatness, riches, poverty.
Did toyle, did broyle; oppress'd, did steal and lye.
Was I as poor as poverty could be,
Then baseness was Companion unto me.
Such scum as hedges and high-ways do yield,
As neither sow, nor reap, nor plant nor build,
If to Agricolture I was ordain'd,
Great labours, sorrows, Crosses I sustain'd.
The early Cock did summon but in vain
My wakeful thoughts up to my painful gain:
My weary Beast rest from his toyle can find,
But if I rest the more distrest my mind.
If happiness my sordidness hath found,
'Twas in the Crop of my manured ground.
My thriving Cattle and my new-milch-Cow,
My fleeced Sheep, and fruitful farrowing Sow:
To greater things I never did aspire,
My dunghil thoughts or hopes could reach no higher.
If to be rich or great it was my fate,
How was I broyl'd with envy and with hate?
Greater then was the great'st was my desire,
And thirst for honour, set my heart on fire.
And by Ambition's sails I was so carried,
That over Flats and sands, and Rocks I hurried,
Opprest and sunk, and stav'd all in my way
That did oppose me, to my longed Bay.
My thirst was higher then nobility,
I oft long'd sore to tast on Royalty:
Then Kings must be depos'd or put to flight,
I might possess that Throne which was their right.
There set, I rid my self straight out of hand
Of such Competitors, as might in time withstand.
Then thought my state firm founded sure to last,
But in a trice 'tis ruin'd by a blast,
Though cemented with more then noble bloud,
The bottom nought, and so no longer stood.
Sometimes vain glory is the only baite
Whereby my empty Soul is lur'd and caught.
Be I of wit, of learning, and of parts,
I judge I should have room in all mens hearts,
And envy gnawes if any do surmount,
I hate, not to be held in high'st account.
If Bias like I'm stript unto my skin,
I glory in my wealth I have within.
Thus good and bad, and what I am you see,
Now in a word, what my diseases be.
The vexing stone in bladder and in reins,
The Strangury torments me with sore pains.
The windy Cholick oft my bowels rend,
To break the darksome prison where it's pen'd.
The Cramp and Gout doth sadly torture me,
And the restraining, lame Sciatica;
The Astma, Megrim, Palsy, Lethargie,
The quartan Ague, dropsy, Lunacy;
Subject to all distempers (that's the truth)
Though some more incident, to Age or Youth.
And to conclude, I may not tedious be,
Man at his best estate is vanity.


Old Age.

What you have been, ev'n such have I before
And all you say, say I, and somewhat more.
Babes innocence, youths wildness I have seen,
And in perplexed middle Age have been:
Sickness, dangers, and anxieties have past,
And on this stage am come to act my last.
I have been young, and strong and wise as you:
But now Bis pueri senes, is too true.
In every Age I've found much vanity,
An end of all perfection now I see.
It's not my valour, honour, nor my gold,
My ruin'd house now falling can uphold.
It's not my learning Rhetorick wit so large,
Hath now the power, death's warfare to discharge.
It's not my goodly state, nor bed of downe
That can refresh, or ease if Conscience frown.
Nor from Alliance can I now have hope,
But what I have done well, that is my prop;
He that in youth is godly, wise, and sage,
Provides a staff then to support his Age.
Mutations great, some joyful and some sad,
In this short pilgrimage I oft have had.
Sometimes the Heavens with plenty smil'd on me,
Sometime again rain'd all Adversity.
Sometimes in honour, sometimes in disgrace,
Sometime an Abject, then again in place.
Such private changes oft mine eyes have seen,
In various times of state I've also been.
I've seen a Kingdome flourish like a tree,
When it was rul'd by that Celestial she;
And like a Cedar, others so surmount:
That but for shrubs they did themselves account;
Then saw I France and Holland, sav'd Cales won,
And Philip and Albertus half undone.
I saw all peace at home, terror to foes,
But ah, I saw at last those eyes to close,
And then methought the day at noon grew dark,
When it had lost that radiant Sun-like Spark,
In midst of griefs I saw our hopes revive,
(For 'twas our hopes then kept our hearts alive)
We chang'd our queen for king under whose rayes
We joy'd in many blest and prosperous dayes.
I've seen a Prince, the glory of our land,
In prime of youth seiz'd by heavens angry hand,
Which fil'd our hearts with fears, with tears our eyes,
Wailing his fate & our own destinies.
I've seen from Rome, an execrable thing,
A Plot to blow up Nobles and their King,
But saw their horrid fact soon disappointed,
And Land and Nobles sav'd with their anointed.
I've Princes seen to live on others lands,
A royal one by gifts from strangers hands,
Admired for their magnanimity.
Who lost a Prince-dome and a Monarchy.
I've seen designs for Ree and Rochel crost.
And poor Palatinate forever lost.
I've seen unworthy men advanced high,
(And better ones, suffer extremity)
But neither favour, riches, title, State,
Could length their days or once reverse their fate.
I've seen one slash'd, and some to lose their heads
And others fly, struck both with gilt and dread.
I've seen and so have you, for tis but late,
The desolation of a goodly State,
Plotted and acted so that none can tell,
Who gave the counsel, but the Prince of hell,
Three hundred thousand slaughtered innocents,
By bloudy Popish, hellish miscreants:
Oh may you live, and, so you will I trust
To see them swill in bloud untill they burst.
I've seen a King by force thrust from his throne,
And an Usurper subt'ly mount thereon.
I've seen a state unmoulded, rent in twain,
But ye may live to see't made up again.
I've seen it plunder'd, taxt and soak'd in bloud,
But out of evill you may see much good.
What are my thoughts, this is no time to say.
Men may more freely speak another day.
These are no old-wives tales, but this is truth.
We old men love to tell what's done in youth.
But I return from whence I stept awry,
My memory is bad, my brain is dry:
Mine Almond tree, grey hairs, doe flourish now,
And back once straight, apace begins to bow:
My grinders now are few, my sight doth fail,
My skin is wrinkled, and my cheeks are pale,
No more rejoyce at musicks pleasing noise,
But waking glad to hear the cocks shrill voice:
I cannot scent savours of pleasant meat,
Nor sapors find in what I drink or eat:
My arms and hands once strong have lost their might
I cannot labour, much less can I fight.
My comely legs as nimble as the Roe
Now stiff and numb, can hardly creep or goe,
My heart sometimes as fierce as Lion bold,
Now trembling is, all fearful sad and cold;
My golden Bowl and silver Cord e're long
Shall both be broke, by racking death so strong;
Then shall I go whence I shall come no more,
Sons, Nephews, leave my farewel to deplore.
In pleasures and in labours I have found.
That Earth can give no consolation sound;
To great to rich to poor, to young to old,
To mean to noble, fearful or to bold:
From King to begger all degrees shall find
But vanity vexation of the mind.
Yea, knowing much the pleasants life of all,
Hath yet among those sweets some bitter gall;
Though reading others works doth much refresh,
Yet studying much brings weariness to th' flesh:
My studies, labours readings all are done,
And my last period now ev'n almost run.
Corruption my Father I do call,
Mother and Sisters both, the worms that crawle
In my dark house, such kindred I have store,
Where I shall rest till heavens shall be no more,
And when this flesh shall rot and be consum'd,
This body by this Soul shall be assum'd:
And I shall see with these same very eyes,
My strong Redeemer comming in the Skies.
Triumph I shall o're sin, o're death, o're Hell,
And in that hope I bid you all farewel.

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