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Say, what is life? 'T is to be born;
A helpless Babe, to greet the light
With a sharp wail, as if the morn
Foretold a cloudy noon and night;
To weep, to sleep, and weep again,
With sunny smiles between; and then?


And then apace the infant grows
To be a laughing, puling boy,
Happy, despite his little woes,
Were he but conscious of his joy;
To be, in short, from two to ten,
A merry, moody Child; and then?


And then, in coat and trousers clad,
To learn to say the Decalogue,
And break it; an unthinking Lad,
With mirth and mischief all agog;
A truant oft by field and fen
To capture butterflies; and then?


And then, increased in strength and size,
To be, anon, a Youth full-grown;
A hero in his mother's eyes,
A young Apollo in his own;
To imitate the ways of men
In fashionable sins; and then?


And then, at last, to be a Man;
To fall in love; to woo and wed;
With seething brain to scheme and plan;
To gather gold, or toil for bread;
To sue for fame with tongue or pen,
And gain or lose the prize; and then?


And then in gray and wrinkled Eld
To mourn the speed of life's decline;
To praise the scenes his youth beheld,
And dwell in memory of Lang-Syne;
To dream awhile with darkened ken,
Then drop into his grave; and then?