X-Message-Number: 4422
Date: 19 May 95 15:56:00 EDT
From: "Steven B. Harris" <>
Subject: CRYONET:Threescore Years and Ten

Cryonet readers may be interested in the full context of the A.E.
Houseman stanza quoted yesterday.  It's one I remember reciting
somewhat wistfully myself eighteen years ago, on a visit to an
old high school composition teacher who loved English poets, on
the occasion of my own twentieth birthday:

"Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with snow along the bow,
And stands about the woodland ride,
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now of my threescore years and ten
Twenty will not come again.
And take from seventy Springs a score,
It leaves me only fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty Springs is little room,
About the woodland I will go,
To see the cherry, hung with snow."

In the late Victorian era of Houseman's time a man of 20 of the
upper English classes could indeed expect another 50 years.  Life
expectancy is always relative to a particular age and social
class and sex.  It was much lower than 70 at birth in Victorian
England (more like 40), but by twenty a young well-to-do-lad had
escaped the childhood diseases, and didn't have to worry about
life in a coal mine, or the not inconsiderable obstetric risk
facing women, or (at that time) even the considerable risk from
smoking machine-rolled cigarettes, not then yet fashionable.

In Western developed countries for all classes in this century,
the largest gains in life expectancy have been made for the
cohort of people at birth, and this continues to some extent
today (previously the gains were in infectious diseases, now they
are in all phases of neonatology).  Life expectancy at 20,
however, has all leveled off at about 60 years, since 1960 or so
in places like Sweden (which don't have America's social proble-
ms, and show the biological/medical race a bit more purely).  The
invention of the (adult) ICU and cardiac care unit isn't even a
blip on this graph.  All this would suggest that we're up against
the aging process itself at this point, yet life expectancy at
retirement age is still increasing, suggesting that rising
"premature" deaths from things like AIDS and smoking in the late
20th century are still to some extent masking new and modest
geriatric advances (smoking prevalence is falling slightly, but
deaths are still rising since we haven't hit equilibrium).

A.E. Houseman, like all the better poets, has written quite a lot
about mortality.  My favorite short poem of his is only 8 lines

With rue by heart is laden
For golden friends I had,
For many a rose-lipped maiden
And many a lightfoot lad.

By brooks too broad for leaping
The lightfoot boys are laid.
The rose-lipped girls are sleeping
In fields where roses fade.

If ever there is a comprehensive history of the beginning of
cryonics, "By Brooks Too Broad For Leaping" would not be a bad
title.  "The Lightfoot Boys Are Laid" would surely promise more
than could be delivered.  

                                  Steve Harris

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