Please explain the poem "The Seven Ages of Man."

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"The Seven Ages of Man," as the character Jaques tells it, is a poem about the stages of life that we all go through if we live out a long life. He starts out comparing life to a play on a stage that we all seem to act out as time marches on. Each of us plays different parts as we meet and go through these seven different stages, but the stages are also alike. First, we are all "mewling and puking in the nurse's arms" when we are born. Then, we attend school as children, which he cites as a "whining schoolboy with his satchel" who goes "unwillingly to school." 

Young adulthood is characterized by all of us becoming a "Lover" as we find love and then becoming a "Soldier" as we venture out into our careers. As we enter the middle-age stage of life, though, we gain a "round belly" and a formal cut beard, which represent progress into authoritative positions and gained wisdom. The sixth stage, which is considered later middle age, is described as follows:

". . . lean and slippered pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;

His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide

For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice

Turning again toward childish treble, pipes

And whistles in his sound."

This passage shows a man's age because he needs glasses to read, but he has a money bag on his side which also shows him as successful and comfortable after working his whole life. His voice, however, is changing from strong and manly back to a childish pitch because of age.

Finally, the end of the poem comes full circle, just as life does, by comparing old age to the first stage of infancy, as follows:

". . . second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."

Babies enter the world without good eyesight, without experience, and without teeth, just as people leave it at the end of their lives. Thus, Jaques recounts the cycle of life for humans in "The Seven Ages of Man."

 

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