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Short poem

Henry Howard, earl of Surrey (1517?-1547)

The Ages of Man

              1     Laid in my quiet bed, in study as I were,
              2I saw within my troubled head a heap of thoughts appear,
              3     And every thought did show so lively in mine eyes,
              4That now I sigh'd, and then I smil'd, as cause of thought did rise.
              5     I saw the little boy, in thought how oft that he
              6Did wish of God to scape the rod, a tall young man to be;
              7     The young man eke, that feels his bones with pains oppress'd,
              8How he would be a rich old man, to live and lie at rest;
              9     The rich old man, that sees his end draw on so sore,
            10How he would be a boy again, to live so much the more.
            11     Whereat full oft I smil'd, to see how all these three,
            12From boy to man, from man to boy, would chop and change degree.
            13     And musing thus, I think the case is very strange
            14That man from wealth, to live in woe, doth ever seek to change.
            15     Thus thoughtful as I lay, I saw my wither'd skin,
            16How it doth show my dinted jaws, the flesh was worn so thin;
            17     And eke my toothless chaps, the gates of my right way,
            18That opes and shuts as I do speak, do thus unto me say:
            19     "Thy white and hoarish hairs, the messengers of age,
            20That show like lines of true belief that this life doth assuage,
            21     Bids thee lay hand and feel them hanging on thy chin,
            22The which do write two ages past, the third now coming in.
            23     Hang up, therefore, the bit of thy young wanton time,
            24And thou that therein beaten art, the happiest life define."
            25     Whereat I sigh'd and said: "Farewell, my wonted joy,
            26Truss up thy pack and trudge from me to every little boy,
            27     And tell them thus from me: their time most happy is,
            28If to their time they reason had to know the truth of this."


1] Title devised by Padelford. Tottel's title: "How no age is content with his own estate, and how the age of children is the happiest, if they had skill to vnderstand it." Like the previous poem, written in poulter's measure. For the thought, compare Horace, Ars Poetica, 156 ff.

6] scape the rod: escape the schoolmaster's stick.

7] eke: also.

12] degree: relative condition, relative place in the family and in society.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Nott, George Fred., ed. The Works of Henry Howard earl of Surrey and of Sir Thomas Wyatt the elder. London: Longman, 1815-16. 2 vols. PR 2370 A1 1815 ROBA.
First publication date: 1557
RPO poem editor: F. D. Hoeniger
RP edition: 3RP 1.18.
Recent editing: 4:2002/5/29

Form: Poulter's Measure
Rhyme: couplets

Other poems by Henry Howard, earl of Surrey