Anne Bradstreet

Old Age

What you have been, ev’n such have I before,
And all you say, say I, and something 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 ruin’d house, now falling can uphold;
It’s not my Learning, Rhetoric, wit so large,
Now hath the power, Death’s Warfare, to discharge.
It’s not my goodly house, nor bed of down,
That can refresh, or ease, if Conscience frown;
Nor from alliance now can I have hope,
But what I have done well, that is my prop.
He that in youth is godly, wise, and sage
Provides a staff for to support his age.
Great mutations, some joyful, and some sad,
In this short Pilgrimage I oft have had.
Sometimes the Heavens with plenty smil’d on me,
Sometimes, 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 Kingdom 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, Calais 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, me thought, the world at noon grew dark
When it had lost that radiant Sun-like spark.
In midst of griefs, I saw some hopes revive
(For ‘twas our hopes then kept our hearts alive);
I saw hopes dash’t, our forwardness was shent,
And silenc’d we, by Act of Parliament.
I’ve seen from Rome, an execrable thing,
A plot to blow up Nobles and their King.
I’ve seen designs at Ree and Cades cross’t,
And poor Palatinate for every lost.
I’ve seen a Prince to live on others’ lands,
A Royal one, by alms from Subjects’ hands.
I’ve seen base men, advanc’d to great degree,
And worthy ones, put to extremity,
But not their Prince’s love, nor state so high,
Could once reverse, their shameful destiny.
I’ve seen one stabb’d, another lose his head,
And others fly their Country through their dread.
I’ve seen, and so have ye, for ‘tis but late,
The desolation of a goodly State.
Plotted and acted so that none can tell
Who gave the counsell, but the Prince of hell.
I’ve seen a land unmoulded with great pain,
But yet may live to see’t made up again.
I’ve seen it shaken, rent, and soak’d in blood,
But out of troubles ye may see much good.
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 short and brain is dry.
My Almond-tree (gray hairs) doth flourish now,
And back, once straight, begins apace 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 pleasant noise,
But do awake at the cock’s clanging voice.
I cannot scent savours of pleasant meat,
Nor sapors find in what I drink or eat.
My hands and arms, once strong, have lost their might.
I cannot labour, nor I cannot 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, and fearful, sad, and cold.
My golden Bowl and silver Cord, e’re long,
Shall both be broke, by wracking death so strong.
I then shall go whence I shall come no more.
Sons, Nephews, leave, my death for 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, or 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 amongst that sweet, 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 can e’en elmost run.
Corruption, my Father, I do call,
Mother, and sisters both; the worms that crawl
In my dark house, such kindred I have store.
There 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 coming in the skies.
Triumph I shall, o’re Sin, o’re Death, o’re Hell,
And in that hope, I bid you all farewell.

spoken = Susannah Wood