Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
The Five Ages
By Philip Freneau (1752–1832)
THE REIGN of old Saturn is highly renown’d
For many fine things that no longer are found,
Trees always in blossom, men free from all pains,
And shepherds as mild as the sheep on their plains.
In the midland equator, dispensing his sway,        5
The sun, they pretended, pursued his bright way,
Not rambled, unsteady, to regions remote,
To talk, once a year, with the crab and the goat.
From a motion like this, have the sages explain’d,
How summer for ever her empire maintain’d;        10
While the turf of the fields by the plough was unbroke,
And a house for the shepherd, the boughs of an oak.
Yet some say there never was seen on this stage
What poets affirm of that innocent age,
When the brutal creation from bondage was free,        15
And men were exactly what mankind should be.
But why should they labor to prove it a dream?—
The poets of old were in love with the theme,
And, leaving to others mere truth to repeat,
In the regions of fancy they found it complete.        20
Three ages have been on this globe, they pretend;
And the fourth, some have thought, is to be without end;
The first was of gold—but a fifth, we will say,
Has already begun, and is now on its way.
Since the days of Arcadia, if ever there shined        25
A ray of the first on the heads of mankind,
Let the learned dispute—but with us it is clear,
That the era of paper was realized here.
Four ages, however, at least have been told,
The first is compared to the purest of gold—        30
But, as bad luck would have it, its circles were few,
And the next was of silver—if Ovid says true.
But this, like the former, did rapidly pass—
While that which came after was nothing but brass—
An age of mere tinkers—and when it was lost,        35
Hard iron succeeded—we know to our cost.
And hence you may fairly infer, if you please,
That we ’re nothing but blacksmiths of various degrees,
Since each has a weapon, of one kind or other,
To stir up the coals, and to shake at his brother.        40
Should the Author of nature reverse his decree,
And bring back the age we ’re so anxious to see,
Agreement alas!—you would look for in vain,
The stuff might be changed, but the staff would remain.
The lawyer would still find a client to fleece,        45
The doctor, a patient to pack off in peace,
The parson, some hundreds of hearers prepared,
To measure his gifts by the length of his beard.
Old Momus would still have some cattle to lead,
Who would hug his opinions, and swallow his creed—        50
So it ’s best, I presume, that things are as they are—
If iron ’s the meanest—we ’ve nothing to fear.

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