Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday poetry - Ben Jonson

After last week's portrait of the end of a sad love affair, this week's poem is one of the most joyously exuberant celebrations of love I've ever read. Ben Jonson (portrait above from has been overshadowed by Shakespeare but he was a famous poet & playwright in his day. He was an argumentative man, imprisoned & branded for killing a fellow actor in a duel. He is said to have loved Shakespeare "on this side idolatry" & he was the centre of a circle of writers & actors who met at the Mermaid Tavern. He was admired by many younger writers (Suckling, Carew & Herrick) who called themselves the Tribe of Ben. His position at the Court of James I was unrivalled & he wrote many masques for Queen Anne.

One of my favourite Jonson poems is the lament he wrote on the death of his son. But, that isn't in the anthology I'm choosing my Sunday poems from & I wanted something a little happier. So, this is To Celia. It encapsulates all that heady, living on love alone, feeling at the beginning of a love affair.

Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup
And I'll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove's nectar sup,
I would not change for thine.

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
Not so much honouring thee
As giving it a hope that there
It could not wither'd be;
But thou theron didst only breathe,
And send'st it back to me;
Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,
Not of itself but thee!

1 comment:

  1. And a real egotist. He was the first playwright to put together a volume of his own collected works (1616, I think) just so that no one would forget him. He was also given a Royal pension that year of around £60 per annum, which possibly gives him a claim to being the first Poet Laureate.