'Of the Four Ages of Man' by Anne Bradstreet

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Lo, now four other act upon the stage,
Childhood and Youth, the Many and Old age:
The first son unto phlegm, grandchild 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 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 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 't is 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 gillyflowers
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 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 us'd 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 ev'n almost run,
Thus writ about: "This out, then am I done."

Editor 1 Interpretation

Of the Four Ages of Man by Anne Bradstreet: A Literary Analysis

Are you a fan of poetry that is both rich in meaning and dense with literary devices? Then you'll enjoy Anne Bradstreet's "Of the Four Ages of Man," a poem that explores the cyclical nature of life, from infancy to old age.

Anne Bradstreet was one of America's earliest poets, born in England in 1612 and immigrating to Massachusetts in 1630. Her poetry was often personal and reflective, and "Of the Four Ages of Man" is no exception. Let's dive in and explore the themes and literary devices at work in this classic poem.

The Four Stages of Life

The poem is structured around the four stages of human life: infancy, childhood, youth, and old age. Each section explores the characteristics and experiences of that particular stage, and Bradstreet uses vivid imagery to bring each age to life.

In the first stanza, she describes infancy as a time of "silly winking ignorance," where the baby is unaware of the world around them. The second stanza focuses on childhood, a stage where the child is "sprightly, full of mirth," and free from the cares of adulthood.

The third stanza is where things get interesting. Bradstreet describes youth as a time of "turbulent desires," where the young person is consumed with passion and ambition. This section is longer than the others, perhaps reflecting the fact that adolescence is a longer and more complex stage than infancy or childhood.

Finally, in the fourth stanza, Bradstreet describes old age as a time of "chill and cooling cares." The imagery here is stark and bleak, as we see the elderly person "tottering, near the grave."

The Cycle of Life

While the poem is structured around the four stages of life, Bradstreet also emphasizes the cyclical nature of human existence. In the final stanza, she writes:

Then being asked the reason why
I thus could mourn and cry,
And what my loss might be,
I did reply, O yes,
My joys are lost, and I
Embrace my miseries.

Here, Bradstreet suggests that the pain and suffering of old age is not unique to that stage of life. Instead, all stages of life contain both joy and sorrow, and we will inevitably experience loss and pain at some point. The cycle of life continues, with each stage leading to the next.

Literary Devices

"Of the Four Ages of Man" is a masterclass in the use of literary devices. Let's explore some of the most notable examples:


Bradstreet uses alliteration throughout the poem to create a sense of rhythm and musicality. For example, in the first stanza, we see:

The first a babe,
Mask'd in his swadling bands

The repeated "b" sound in "babe" and "bands" creates a pleasing sound when read aloud.


In the second stanza, Bradstreet personifies childhood, describing it as a time when "Nature doth all with gladness fill." By giving nature human characteristics, Bradstreet emphasizes the joy and innocence of childhood.


Perhaps the most striking aspect of the poem is its vivid imagery. Bradstreet uses metaphor and simile to bring each stage of life to life. For example, in the third stanza, she writes:

Thus we see Youth,
Like to a blasted tree

Here, Bradstreet compares youth to a withered, dead tree, emphasizing the fleeting nature of this stage of life.


Finally, the poem is rich in symbolism. For example, Bradstreet uses the image of a "cloud" in the third stanza to represent a young person's ambition and desire. She writes:

A cloud of vapors
Did wrap me in,
Of which I was
Begot, I am sure.

Here, the cloud represents the nebulous and ever-changing nature of youthful ambition.


"Of the Four Ages of Man" is a remarkable poem that explores the cyclical nature of human existence. Bradstreet's use of imagery, symbolism, and literary devices makes for a rich and rewarding reading experience. So the next time you're in the mood for some thought-provoking poetry, give this classic a try!

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Of the Four Ages of Man: A Timeless Masterpiece by Anne Bradstreet

Anne Bradstreet, an English-born American poet, is known for her remarkable contribution to the world of literature. Her works are a reflection of her life experiences, and she often wrote about the struggles and joys of being a woman in a male-dominated society. One of her most famous works is the "Poetry Of the Four Ages of Man," a poem that explores the different stages of human life. In this article, we will analyze and explain this timeless masterpiece in detail.

The poem is divided into four sections, each representing a different stage of human life. The first section is titled "Infancy," and it describes the innocence and purity of a newborn child. Bradstreet writes, "A new-born infant is a tender thing, / And hath a soul as clear as crystalline." The use of the word "tender" emphasizes the vulnerability of a newborn, while "crystalline" suggests the clarity and purity of their soul. Bradstreet also mentions the child's dependence on their mother, writing, "It is as helpless as a birdling young, / And in its mother's fond arms must be hung." This line highlights the importance of maternal love and care in a child's early years.

The second section is titled "Childhood," and it describes the playful and carefree nature of children. Bradstreet writes, "The child is like a little savage wild, / And hath a will as stubborn as a mule." The use of the word "savage" suggests the untamed and wild nature of children, while "stubborn" emphasizes their strong will. Bradstreet also mentions the importance of education in shaping a child's character, writing, "But if his mind be virtuously inclined, / He may be taught to be both good and kind." This line highlights the role of education in molding a child's personality and character.

The third section is titled "Youth," and it describes the passion and energy of young adults. Bradstreet writes, "The youth is like a fiery steed, / That hath a mind to run his wilful speed." The use of the metaphor "fiery steed" suggests the energy and passion of youth, while "wilful speed" emphasizes their desire for independence and freedom. Bradstreet also mentions the importance of self-control and discipline in this stage of life, writing, "But if he be not taught to rule his will, / His life will soon become a scene of ill." This line highlights the dangers of unchecked passion and the importance of self-discipline.

The fourth and final section is titled "Old Age," and it describes the wisdom and experience of the elderly. Bradstreet writes, "The aged man is like a bending tree, / That hath been buffeted by many a gale." The use of the metaphor "bending tree" suggests the physical frailty of old age, while "buffeted by many a gale" emphasizes the hardships and challenges that come with a long life. Bradstreet also mentions the importance of reflection and introspection in this stage of life, writing, "But if he hath been wise and virtuous, too, / He may look back with joy upon his view." This line highlights the value of a life well-lived and the importance of reflecting on one's accomplishments and mistakes.

Overall, "Poetry Of the Four Ages of Man" is a timeless masterpiece that explores the different stages of human life. Through vivid imagery and powerful metaphors, Anne Bradstreet captures the essence of each stage, highlighting the joys and challenges that come with it. The poem also emphasizes the importance of maternal love, education, self-discipline, and reflection in shaping a person's character and life. It is a beautiful and inspiring work of art that continues to resonate with readers today.

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