Anne Bradstreet: The Four Ages of Man, Introduction

Updated September 23, 2019 | Infoplease Staff


Lo now! four other acts upon the stage,
Childhood, and Youth, the Manly, and Old-age.
The first: son unto Phlegm, grand-child to water,
Unstable, supple, moist, and cold'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 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, and given to show,
His spring was intermixed with some snow.
Upon his head a Garland Nature set:
Of Daisy, Primrose, and the Violet.
Such cold mean flowers (as these) blossom betime,
Before the Sun hath throughly warm'd the clime.
His hobby striding, did not ride, but run,
And in his hand an hour-glass new begun,
In dangers every moment of a fall,
And when 'tis broke, then ends his life and all.
But if he held till it have run its last,
Then may he live till 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.
In's countenance, his pride quickly was seen.
Garland of Roses, Pinks, and Gillyflowers
Seemed to grow on's head (bedew'd with showers).
His face as fresh, as is Aurora fair,
When blushing first, she 'gins to red the Air.
No wooden horse, but one of metal 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 more 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 Autumn fruits a basket on his arm,
His golden rod in's purse, which was his charm.
And last of all, to act upon this Stage,
Leaning upon his staff, comes up old age.
Under his arm a Sheaf of wheat he bore,
A Harvest of the best: what needs he more?
In's other hand a glass, ev'n almost run,
This writ about: This out, then I am 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, the rest 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.
Sources +