The Ages of Man
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Lesley Nelson-Burns


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A black letter broadside named The Age and Life of Man is in the Pepys collection. It was to be sung to the tune Jane Shore. A broadside in the Douce collection begins with naming the year as 1653. (See the Bodleian Library for a copy of this broadside.) Although the theme is similar, the words are not.

In the reign of Charles II Thackery printed The Life and Age of Man on broadsides. It continued to be printed up through the nineteenth century.

This song was collected by Lucy Broadwood in Sussex in 1893.

In prime of years, when I was young,
I took delight in youthful toys,
Not knowing then what did belong
Unto the pleasure of those days.
At seven years old I was a child,
And subject for to be beguiled.

At twice seven, I must needs go learn
What discipline was taught at school;
When good from evil I could discern
I thought myself no more a fool.
My parents were contriving then
How I might live when I became a man.

At three times seven, I wexèd wild,
And manhood led me to be bold;
I thought myself no more a child,
My own conceit it so me told.
Then I did venture far and near
To buy delight at price full dear.

At four times seven I must take a wife,
And leave off all my wanton ways,
Thinking thereby perhaps to thrive
And save myself from sad disgrace.
So fare ye well, companions all,
For other business doth me call.

At five times seven, I would go prove
What I could gain by art or skill;
But still against the stream I strove,
I bowled stones up against the hill.
The more I laboured with might and main,
The more I strove against the stream.

At six times seven, all covetness
Began to harbour in my breast,
My mind then still contriving was
How I might gain all worldly wealth,
To purchase lands, and live on them,
To make my children mighty men.

At seven times seven,all worldly care
Began to harbour in my brain;
Then I did drink a heavy draught
Of water of experience plain.
Then none so ready was as I,
To purchase, bargain, sell, or buy.

At eight times seven, I wexèd old,
I took myself unto my rest;
My neighbours then my counsel craved
And I was held in great request.
But age did so abate my strength
That I was forced to yield at length.

At nine times seven,I must take leave
Of all my carnal vain, delight,
And then full sore it did me grieve,
I fetched up many a bitter sigh.
To rise up early, and sit up late
I was no longer fit; my strength did abate.

At ten times seven, my glass was run,
And I, poor silly man, must die,
I looked up, and saw the sun
Was overcome with crystal sky.
And now I must this world forsake,
Another man my place must take.

Now you may see within the glass
The whole estate of mortal man;
How they from seven to seven do pass,
Until they are three score and ten,
And, when their glass is fully run,
They must leave off where they first begun.

From English Traditional Songs and Carols
See Bibliography for full information.