I had it memorized for elocution contests in school and remember being lauded for my oratory. One teacher had commented that the passion I bring to the poem tells her I "get it."
I'm not sure I did as much then as I do now.
I have passed through three stages, with the first one being more or less a blur. I don't remember "mewling and puking in the nurse's arms" but I do recall being a sick child.
Frailty was my trademark back then.
How distinct that memory of "the whining schoolboy schoolgirl with his her satchel and shining morning face, creeping like snail unwillingly to school." I hated getting up at 6 a.m. Eyes half-closed I would go through the morning routine, skipping showering some days so I wouldn't miss my morning ride.
Sometimes I deliberately went through the motions slowly -- the rickshaw-wallah would ring the doorbell at 6:55 a.m. and if I were still putting on my socks mom couldn't pester me to drink milk!
"And then the lover" -- those days of long-distance romance; the e-cards; the letters. The pining; the waiting; the attempts to miss flights back to Iowa City. Passed all too quickly.
"Then a soldier" -- this, my current age. But unlike the soldier "Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel, seeking the bubble reputation even in the cannon's mouth," I find myself contemplating, discovering, questioning the value of a bubble reputation.
I'm more grounded, less excitable. More ponderous.
I want to know the meaning of life. The reason why we do what we do.
I seek truth -- if there is something like it.
Perhaps, somewhere in that quest, discover myself.
I look around me and I see friends consumed by their children's lives -- reliving the first stage, preparing for the second, fearing the third, but in the process losing themselves ... their lives but a reflection of their offsprings'.
Given my contemplations, perhaps, I'll fast-forward to the fifth stage "full of wise saws, and modern instances" really rapidly.
Then slowly inch my way to the sixth and seventh and into oblivion: sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
Here's the entire poem for you to ponder over:
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav'd, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
— Jaques (Act II, Scene VII, lines 139-166)
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