Three Score & Ten is an anthology of literary quotes illustrating every year of one’s life from conception to death. Basically 0 – 70 (or minus 9 months to 70 if you prefer).
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.
Then the whining schoolboy, 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 honor, 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 lined,
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 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. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
– William Shakespeare, As You Like It (Act II Scene vii)
You, as you sit here and listen, are going on in time. From minute to minute your existence is falling away from your breathing side. For your existence is, in a way, a finite totality which can be computed. There are 60 minutes to an hour, 24 hours to a day, 365 days to a year, and perhaps 70 years to an existence. You are very well aware of all this. But have any of you ever stopped to think that this gives you a mere 36, 729, 000 minutes in which to exist, a sum which is melting away as I speak, like ice under a terrible sun!
– Delmore Schwartz, ‘The Commencement Day Address’
The days of our years are threescore years and ten…
– King James Bible, Psalm 90:10
Three Score & Ten, or: Like Ice Under a Terrible Sun is an anthology of literary quotes illustrating each year of life from conception to death. Its aim is to view the passage of time through the prism of literature by using a different male and female character for each year, in order to detail the miniscule changes wrought upon our bodies and minds as consciousness blooms, experiences accrue, hopes rise and fall, options expand and then retract.
Three Score & Ten has been over a decade in the making and when compiling it I found it essential to give myself Some Rules.
- All the characters must be fictional.
- I can only use each character once (so if a character is 15 at the start of the novel and 30 at the end he/she can only represent one of those ages).
- Only one male and one female quote for each age.
- The quote has to actually say how old the character is – and has to reveal something about that age, either psychologically, physically, or, ideally, both
- Each quote should be able to stand alone and make sense to a reader without prior knowledge to the book.
- I have to have read and finished the book I’m quoting from.
A Brief Word About The Title
Obviously the cut-off point in a project like this is a fairly arbitrary one, but I decided quite early on to toe the Biblical line and take my cue from the King James Bible, Psalm 90:10. In doing this I am well aware that I am blithely ignoring scientific advancements, life-style choices, etc. that have extended the human life-span into the high-90s and beyond (I am also conveniently ignoring the Psalm’s caveat that “if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”)
This decision has nothing to do with any deeply-held religious beliefs. Rather, it is born entirely from a) expediency and b) aesthetics:
a) The progress from initial musings to physical book has taken almost a decade – to extend the concept to encompass a full century would take, at a generous estimate, at least another five years of research.
b) Seventy years presents, in my view, a far more symmetrical arc: one that can be summarised by Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man with approximately a neat ten years allocated to each stage between mewling infant and mere oblivion: childhood, adolescence, young adult, middle age, old age.