Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE TENTH MUSE: THE FOUR AGES OF MAN, by ANNE BRADSTREET

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE TENTH MUSE: THE FOUR AGES OF MAN, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Lo now four other act upon the stage
Last Line: And in that hope I bid you all farewell.
Variant Title(s): The Four Ages Of Man
Subject(s): Children; Family Life; Home; Life; Marriage; Middle Age; Old Age; Puritans; Sickness; Childhood; Relatives; Weddings; Husbands; Wives; Illness

Lo now four other act upon the stage,
Childhood and Youth, the Manly and Old Age;
The first son unto phlegm, grand-child to water,
Unstable, supple, cold, and moist's his nature.
The second, frolic, claims his pedigree
From blood and air, for hot and moist is he.
The third of fire and choler is composed
Vindicative and quarrelsome disposed.
The last of earth, and heavy melancholy,
Solid, hating all lightness and all folly.
Childhood was clothed in white and green to show
His spring was intermixed with some snow:
Upon his head nature a garland set
Of primrose, daisy and the violet.
Such cold mean flowers the spring puts forth betime
Before the sun hath thoroughly 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 scarf of green,
His pride in's countenance was quickly seen;
Garland of roses, pinks and gilliflowers
Seemed on's head to grow bedewed 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 mettle tried,
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 used as yet, for he was wise:
Of autumn's 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 even 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 precendency,
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 than's true.
With heed now stood three ages of frail man,
To hear the child, who crying thus began.


Ah me! conceived in sin and born with sorrow,
A nothing, here today and gone tomorrow,
Whose mean beginning blushing can't reveal,
But night and darkness must with shame conceal.
My mother's breeding sickness I will spare,
Her nine months weary burthen not declare.
To show 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 cries I did disturb her rest,
Who sought still to appease me with the breast:
With weary arms she danced and "By By" sung,
When wretched I, ingrate, had done the wrong.
When infancy was past, my childishness
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 highborn soul so straitly 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'er made my mark,
Nor studious was kings' favours how to buy,
With costly presents or base flattery:
No office coveted wherein I might
Make strong myself and turn aside weak right:
No malice bear 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 people's strife.
No statist I, nor martialist in th' field;
Where e'er I went, mine innocence was shield.
My quarrels not for diadems did rise,
But for an apple, plum, or some such prize:
My strokes did cause no blood, no wounds or scars,
My little wrath did end soon as my wars:
My duel was no challenge nor did seek
My foe should welt'ring in his bowels reek.
I had no suits at law neighbours to vex,
Nor evidence for lands did me perplex.
I feared no storms, nor all the wind that blows,
I had no ships at sea, nor freights to lose.
I feared 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 tell 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 Adam's sinful fact,
Thence I began to sin as soon as act:
A perverse will, a love to what's forbid,
A serpent's sting in pleasing face lay hid:
A lying tongue 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 still do find.
What grippes of wind mine infancy did pain,
What tortures I in breeding teeth sustain?
What crudities my stomach 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 preserved, yet mind it not at all:
At home, abroad my danger's 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.


My goodly clothing, and my beauteous skin
Declare some greater riches are within:
But what is best I'll first present to view,
And then the worst in a more ugly hue:
For thus to do we on this stage assemble,
Then let not him that hath most craft dissemble.
My education and my learning such,
As might myself and others profit much;
With nurture trained up in virtue's 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 do.
The brave attempts of valiant knights I prize,
That dare scale walls and forts reared to the skies.
The snorting horse, the trumpet, drum I like,
The glitt'ring sword, the pistol, and the pike:
I cannot lie intrenched 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 depressed.
Sweet music raps my brave harmonious soul,
My high thoughts elevate beyond the pole:
My wit, my bounty, and my courtesy
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, or vanity can be,
That who would see vain man, may look on me.
My gifts abused, my education lost;
My woeful parents' longing hopes are crossed;
My wit evaporates in merriment;
My valour in some beastly quarrel'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, fiddlers spend,
To all obscenity mine ears I lend;
All counsel 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 than my virtues shine
If time from lewd companions I can spare,
'Tis spent to curl, and pounce my new-bought hair.
Some new Adonis I do strive to be;
Sardanapalus now survives in me.
Cards, dice, and oaths concomitant I love,
To plays, to masques, to taverns still I move.
And in a word, if what I am you'd hear,
Seek out a British brutish cavalier:
Such wretch, such monster am I, but yet more,
I have no heart at all this to deplore,
Rememb'ring not the dreadful day of doom,
Nor yet that heavy reckoning soon to come.
Though dangers do attend me every hour,
And ghastly Death oft threats me with his power,
Sometimes by wounds in idle combats taken,
Sometimes with agues all my body shaken:
Sometimes by fevers all my moisture drinking,
My heart lies frying and mine eyes are sinking,
Sometimes the quinsy, painful pleurisy,
With sad affrights of death doth menace me:
Sometimes the twofold pox me sore be-mars
With outward marks and inward loathsome scars,
Sometimes the frenzy strangely 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 oblivion's 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, yea 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.
When my wild oats were sown and ripe and mown,
I then received an harvest of mine own.
My reason then bad judge how little hope
Such empty seed should yield a better crop;
Then with both hands I grasped the world together.
Thus out of one extreme 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 allied.
If rich, I'm urged then to gather more,
To bear a port 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 clothed, and bellies I have fed
With mine own fleece, and with my household bread;
Yea, justice have I done, was I in place,
To cheer the good, and wicked to deface.
The proud I crushed, th' oppressed I set free,
The liars curbed, but nourished 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 trained my band,
And showed them how in face of foes to stand.
A soldier 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'er I took my pay.
Thus hath mine age in all sometimes done well,
Sometimes again, mine age been worse than hell.
In meanness, greatness, riches, poverty,
Did toil, did broil, oppressed, did steal and lie.
Was I as poor as poverty could be,
Then baseness was companion unto me,
Such scum as hedges and highways do yield,
As neither sow, nor reap, nor plant, nor build.
If to agriculture I was ordained,
Great labours, sorrows, crosses I sustained.
The early cock did summon but in vain
My wakeful thoughts up to my painful gain:
My weary beast rest from his toil can find,
But if I rest the more distressed 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 dunghill thoughts or hopes could reach no higher.
If to be rich or great it was my fate,
How was I broiled with envy and with hate?
Greater than 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,
Oppressed and sunk and staved all in my way
That did oppose me, to my longed bay.
My thirst was higher than nobility,
I oft longed sore to taste on royalty:
Then kings must be deposed 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 ruined by a blast,
Though cemented with more than noble blood,
The bottom nought, and so no longer stood.
Sometimes vainglory is the only bait
Whereby my empty soul is lured and caught.
Be I of wit, of learning, and of parts,
I judge I should have room in all men's hearts.
And envy gnaws if any do surmount,
I hate not to be held in high'st account.
If Bias like I'm stripped 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 colic oft my bowels rend,
To break the darksome prison where it's penned.
The cramp and gout doth sadly torture me,
And the restraining, lame sciatica.
The asthma, megrim, palsy, lethargy,
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.
Babe's innocence, youth's 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 ruined house now falling can uphold.
It's not my learning, rhetoric, wit so large,
Hath now the power, death's warfare to discharge.
It's not my goodly state nor bed of down
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 smiled on me
Sometime again rained 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 kingdom flourish like a tree,
When it was ruled 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 saved, Callais 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 changed our queen for king under whose rays
We joyed in many blest and prosperous days.
I've seen a prince, the glory of our land,
In prime of youth seized by heaven's angry hand,
Which filled our hearts with fears, with tears our eyes,
Wailing his fate, and 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 saved with their anointed.
I've princes seen to live on other's lands;
A royal one by gifts from strangers' hands,
Admired for their magnanimity,
Who lost a princedom and a monarchy.
I've seen designs for Ree and Rochelle crossed,
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 stab'd, and some to lose their heads,
And others fly, struck both with guilt 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 bloody Popish, hellish miscreants:
Oh may you live, and so you will I trust
To see them swill in blood until they burst.
I've seen a king by force thrust from his throne,
And an usurper subtly mount thereon.
I've seen a state unmoulded, rent in twain,
But yet may live to see't made up again.
I've seen it plundered, taxed, and soaked in blood,
But out of evil 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 stepped awry,
My memory is bad, my brain is dry:
Mine almond tree, grey hairs, do 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 rejoice at music's pleasing noise,
But waking glad to hear the cock's 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 go,
My heart sometimes as fierce as lion bold,
Now trembling is, all fearful sad and cold;
My golden bowl and silver cord e'er long
Shall both be broke, by racking death so strong:
Then shall I go whence I shall come no more,
Sons, nephews, leave my farewell 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 beggar, all degrees shall find
But vanity, vexation of the mind.
Yea, knowing much, the pleasant'st 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 crawl
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 consumed,
This body by this soul shall be assumed:
And I shall see with these same very eyes,
My strong Redeemer coming in the skies.
Triumph I shall o'er sin, o'er death, o'er hell,
And in that hope I bid you all farewell.

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