In W.B. Yeat’s poem Supernatural Songs, part IX of the poem presents his “theory” of the human life cycle in poetic form. According to Yeats, there are four stages of life or “ages of man” that relate respectively to body, heart, mind, and soul. The first age recalls infancy, as the baby struggles to walk and to take its place among other upright human beings. The second age seems to echo adolescence, as the innocence and peace of childhood gives way to a mighty battle of the emotions. The third age recalls adult maturity, as the storms of adolescence give way to the adventures of the mind. The fourth, and final age, alludes to late adulthood, when spiritual concerns take front stage, and also to death, when the struggle for the soul is ultimately resolved. Here are the lines:
IX. The Four Ages of Man
He with body waged a fight,
But body won; it walks upright.
Then he struggled with the heart;
Innocence and peace depart.
Then he struggled with the mind;
His proud heart he left behind.
Now his wars on God begin;
At stroke of midnight God shall win.
From William Butler Yeats, Supernatural Songs (in Parnell’s Funeral and Other Poems, 1935)
For more about the stages of life in cultures and traditions, see Thomas Armstrong, The Human Odyssey: Navigating the Twelve Stages of Life (Ixia Press, 2019)
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