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Best Famous Ben Jonson Poems

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The Hourglass

Consider this small dust here running in the glass,
By atoms moved;
Could you believe that this the body was 
Of one that loved?
And in his mistress' flame, playing like a fly,
Turned to cinders by her eye:
Yes; and in death, as life, unblessed,
To have it expressed,
Even ashes of lovers find no rest.
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His Excuse for Loving

Let it not your wonder move, 
Less your laughter, that I love.
Though I now write fifty years, I have had, and have, my peers.
Poets, though divine, are men; Some have loved as old again.
And it is not always face, Clothes, or fortune gives the grace, Or the feature, or the youth; But the language and the truth, With the ardor and the passion, Gives the lover weight and fashion.
If you then would hear the story, First, prepare you to be sorry That you never knew till now Either whom to love or how; But be glad as soon with me When you hear that this is she Of whose beauty it was sung, She shall make the old man young, Keep the middle age at stay, And let nothing hide decay, Till she be the reason why All the world for love may die.
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To Celia

Drinke to me, onely, with thine eyes, 
And I will pledge with mine; 
Or leave a kisse but in the cup, 
And Ile not looke for wine.
The thirst, that from the soule doth rise, Doth aske a drinke divine: But might I of Jove's Nectar sup, I would not change for thine.
I sent thee, late, a rosie wreath, Not so much honoring thee, As giving it a hope, that there It could not withered bee.
But thou thereon did'st onely breath, And sent'st it back to mee: Since when it growes, and smells, I sweare, Not of it selfe, but thee.
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On My First Daughter

On My First Daughter
by Ben Jonson

Here lies, to each her parents' ruth,
Mary, the daughter of their youth;
Yet all heaven's gifts being heaven's due,
It makes the father less to rue.

At six months' end, she parted hence
With safety of her innocence;
Whose soul heaven's queen, whose name she bears,
In comfort of her mother's tears,
Hath placed amongst her virgin-train:
Where, while that severed doth remain,
This grave partakes the fleshly birth;
Which cover lightly, gentle earth!
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To All, To Whom I Write


IX.
 ? TO ALL TO WHOM I WRITE.
  
May none whose scatter'd names honor my book,
For strict degrees of rank or title look :
'Tis 'gainst the manners of an epigram ;
And I a poet here, no herald am.

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To Fine Grand


LXXIII.
 — TO FINE GRAND.

What is't, FINE GRAND, makes thee my friendship fly,
Or take an Epigram so fearfully,
As 'twere a challenge, or a borrower's letter:
The world must know your greatness is my debtor.
Imprimis, Grand, you owe me for a jest
I lent you, on mere acquaintance, at a feast.
Item, a tale or two some fortnight after,
That yet maintains you, and your house in laughter.
Item, the Babylonian song you sing;
Item, a fair Greek poesy for a ring,
With which a learned madam you bely.
Item, a charm surrounding fearfully
Your partie-per-pale picture, one half drawn
In solemn cypress, th' other cobweb lawn.
Item, a gulling imprese for you, at tilt.
Item, your mistress' anagram, in your hilt.
Item, your own, sewn in your mistress' smock.
Item, an epitaph on my lord's cock,
In most vile verses, and cost me more pain,
Than had I made 'em good, to fit your vein.
Forty things more, dear Grand, which you know true,
For which, or pay me quickly, or I'll pay you.

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To the Memory of My Beloved the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare

 MASTER WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE,
AND WHAT HE HATH LEFT US
by Ben Jonson


To draw no envy, SHAKSPEARE, on thy name,
Am I thus ample to thy book and fame ;
While I confess thy writings to be such,
As neither Man nor Muse can praise too much.
'Tis true, and all men's suffrage.
But these ways
Were not the paths I meant unto thy praise ;
For seeliest ignorance on these may light,
Which, when it sounds at best, but echoes right ;
Or blind affection, which doth ne'er advance
The truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance ;
Or crafty malice might pretend this praise,
And think to ruin where it seemed to raise.
These are, as some infamous bawd or whore
Should praise a matron ; what could hurt her more ?
But thou art proof against them, and, indeed,
Above the ill fortune of them, or the need.
I therefore will begin: Soul of the age!
The applause ! delight ! the wonder of our stage!
My SHAKSPEARE rise ! I will not lodge thee by
Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lie
A little further, to make thee a room :
Thou art a monument without a tomb,
And art alive still while thy book doth live
And we have wits to read, and praise to give.
That I not mix thee so my brain excuses,
I mean with great, but disproportioned Muses :
For if I thought my judgment were of years,
I should commit thee surely with thy peers,
And tell how far thou didst our Lyly outshine,
Or sporting Kyd, or Marlowe's mighty line.
And though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek,
From thence to honour thee, I would not seek
For names : but call forth thund'ring Aeschylus,
Euripides, and Sophocles to us,
Pacuvius, Accius, him of Cordova dead,
To life again, to hear thy buskin tread
And shake a stage : or when thy socks were on,
Leave thee alone for the comparison
Of all that insolent Greece or haughty Rome
Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come.
Triumph, my Britain, thou hast one to show
To whom all Scenes of Europe homage owe.
He was not of an age, but for all time !
And all the Muses still were in their prime,
When, like Apollo, he came forth to warm
Our ears, or like a Mercury to charm !
Nature herself was proud of his designs,
And joyed to wear the dressing of his lines !
Which were so richly spun, and woven so fit,
As, since, she will vouchsafe no other wit.
The merry Greek, tart Aristophanes,
Neat Terence, witty Plautus, now not please ;
But antiquated and deserted lie,
As they were not of Nature's family.
Yet must I not give Nature all ; thy art,
My gentle Shakspeare, must enjoy a part.
For though the poet's matter nature be,
His art doth give the fashion : and, that he
Who casts to write a living line, must sweat,
(Such as thine are) and strike the second heat
Upon the Muses' anvil ; turn the same,
And himself with it, that he thinks to frame ;
Or for the laurel he may gain a scorn ;
For a good poet's made, as well as born.
And such wert thou ! Look how the father's face
Lives in his issue, even so the race
Of Shakspeare's mind and manners brightly shines
In his well torned and true filed lines;
In each of which he seems to shake a lance,
As brandisht at the eyes of ignorance.
Sweet Swan of Avon ! what a sight it were
To see thee in our waters yet appear,
And make those flights upon the banks of Thames,
That so did take Eliza, and our James !
But stay, I see thee in the hemisphere
Advanced, and made a constellation there !
Shine forth, thou Star of Poets, and with rage
Or influence, chide or cheer the drooping stage,
Which, since thy flight from hence, hath mourned like night,
And despairs day, but for thy volume's light.



Source:
Jonson, Ben.
The Works of Ben Jonson, vol.
3.
London: Chatto & Windus, 1910.
287-9.


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Ode to Sir William Sidney, on His Birthday

  

XIV.
— ODE TO SIR WILLIAM SIDNEY, ON HIS BIRTH-DAY.
 


                       Some sing,
    And all do strive to advance
The gladness higher;
                Wherefore should I
                Stand silent by,
                    Who not the least,    That I may tell to SIDNEY what
                       This day
                       Doth say,
    And he may think on that
Which I do tell;
                When all the noise
                Of these forced joys,
                    Are fled and gone,

    Are justly summ'd, that make you man;
                       Your vow
                       Must now
    Strive all right ways it can,
T' outstrip your peers :
                Since he doth lack
                Of going back
                    Little,  whose will

    Of nobles' virtue, shew in you ;
                       Your blood
                       So good
    And great, must seek for new,
And study more :
                Not weary, rest
                On what's deceas't.

                    For they, that swell

    Whose nephew, whose grandchild you are ;
                       And men
                       Will then
    Say you have follow'd far,
When well begun :
                Which must be now,
                They teach you how,
                    And he that stays

    If with this truth you be inspired ;
                       So may
                       This day
    Be more, and long desired ;
And with the flame
                Of love be bright,
                As with the light
                    Of bonfires !  then



    And some do drink, and some do dance,
                       Some ring,
                       Some sing,
    And all do strive to advance
The gladness higher;
                Wherefore should I
                Stand silent by,
                    Who not the least,
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On Gut


CXVIII.
 ? ON GUT.
  
GUT eats all day and letchers all the night,
   So all his meat he tasteth over twice ;
And striving so to double his delight,
   He makes himself a thorough-fare of vice.
Thus, in his belly, can he change a sin,
Lust it comes out, that gluttony went in.


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To my Muse


LXV.
 — TO MY MUSE.

Away, and leave me, thou thing most abhorr'd
That hast betray'd me to a worthless lord ;
Made me commit most fierce idolatry
To a great image through thy luxury :
Be thy next master's more unlucky muse,
And, as thou'st mine, his hours and youth abuse,
Get him the time's long grudge, the court's ill will ;
And reconcil'd, keep him suspected still.
Make him lose all his friends ; and, which is worse,
Almost all ways to any better course.
With me thou leav'st an happier muse than thee,
And which thou brought'st me, welcome poverty :
She shall instruct my after-thoughts to write
Things manly, and not smelling parasite.
But I repent me : stay — Whoe'er is raised,
For worth he has not, he is tax'd not praised.

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Epistle to Katherine, Lady Aubigny

  

XIII.
— EPISTLE TO KATHARINE LADY AUBIGNY.
           


As what they have lost t' expect, they dare deride.

So both the prais'd and praisers suffer ; yet,
For others ill ought none their good forget.

I therefore, who profess myself in love
With every virtue, wheresoe'er it move,
And howsoever ;  as I am at feudBy arts, and practice of the vicious,
Such as suspect themselves, and think it fit,
For their own capital crimes, to indict my wit ;
I that have suffer'd this ;  and though forsook
Of fortune, have not alter'd yet my look,
Or so myself abandon'd, as because
Men are not just, or keep no holy laws
Of nature and society, I should faint ;If it may stand with your soft blush, to hear
Yourself but told unto yourself, and see
In my character what your features be,
You will not from the paper slightly pass :
No lady, but at some time loves her glass.

And this shall be no false one, but as much
Remov'd, as you from need to have it such.

Look then, and see your self — I will not sayIt perfect, proper, pure, and natural,
Not taken up o' the doctors, but as well
As I, can say and see it doth excel ;
That asks but to be censured by the eyes :
And in those outward forms, all fools are wise.

Nor that your beauty wanted not a dower,
Do I reflect.
   Some alderman has power,
Or cozening farmer of the customs, soAnd raise not virtue ;  they may vice enhance.

My mirror is more subtle, clear, refined,
And.
takes and gives the beauties of the mind ;
Though it reject not those of fortune :  such
As blood, and match.
  Wherein, how more than much
Are you engaged to your happy fate,
For such a lot !  that mixt you with a state
Of so great title, birth, but virtue most,For he that once is good, is ever great.

Wherewith then, madam, can you better pay
This blessing of your stars, than by that way
Of virtue, which you tread ?   What if alone,
Without companions ?  'tis safe to have none.

In single paths dangers with ease are watch'd ;
Contagion in the press is soonest catch'd.

This makes, that wisely you decline your lifeNot looking by, or back, like those that wait
Times and occasions, to start forth, and seem.

Which though the turning world may disesteem,
Because that studies spectacles and shows,
And after varied, as fresh objects, goes,
Giddy with change, and therefore cannot see
Right, the right way ;  yet must your comfort be
Your conscience, and not wonder if none asksMaintain their liegers forth for foreign wires,
Melt down their husbands land, to pour away
On the close groom and page, on new-year's day,
And almost all days after, while they live ;
They find it both so witty, and safe to give.

Let them on powders, oils, and paintings spend,
Till that no usurer, nor his bawds dare lend
Them or their officers ;  and no man know,When their own parasites laugh at their fall,
May they have nothing left, whereof they can
Boast, but how oft they have gone wrong to man,
And call it their brave sin : for such there be
That do sin only for the infamy ;
And never think, how vice doth every hour
Eat on her clients, and some one devour.

You, madam, young have learn'd to shun these shelves,Into your harbor, and all passage shut
'Gainst storms or pirates, that might charge your peace ; 
For which you worthy are the glad increase
Of your blest womb, made fruitful from above,
To pay your lord the pledges of chaste love ;
And raise a noble stem, to give the fame
To Clifton's blood, that is denied their name.

Grow, grow, fair tree !  and as thy branches shoot,Before the moons have fill'd their triple trine,
To crown the burden which you go withal,
It shall a ripe and timely issue fall,
T' expect the honors of great AUBIGNY ;
And greater rites, yet writ in mystery,
But which the fates forbid me to reveal.

Only thus much out of a ravish'd zeal
Unto your name, and goodness of your life,What your tried manners are, what theirs should be ;
How you love one, and him you should, how still
You are depending on his word and will ;
Not fashion'd for the court, or strangers' eyes ;
But to please him, who is the dearer prize
Unto himself, by being so dear to you.

This makes, that your affections still be new,
And that your souls conspire, as they were goneMadam, be bold to use this truest glass ;
Wherein your form you still the same shall find ;
Because nor it can change, nor such a mind.

Of any good mind, now ; there are so few.

The bad, by number, are so fortified,
As what they have lost t' expect, they dare deride.

So both the prais'd and praisers suffer ; yet,
For others ill ought none their good forget.

I therefore, who profess myself in love
With every virtue, wheresoe'er it move,
And howsoever ;  as I am at feud
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Song. That Women Are But Men's Shadows

  

VII.
— SONG.
— THAT WOMEN ARE BUT MEN'S
SHADOWS.
 


    Let her alone, she will court you.
Say are not women truly, then,                     5
Styl'd but the shadows of us men ?
At morn and even shades are longest ;
    At noon they are or short, or none :
So men at weakest, they are strongest,
    But grant us perfect, they're not known.
  10
Say, are not women truly, then,
Styl'd but the shadows of us men ?

    Seem to fly it, it will pursue :
So court a mistress, she denies you ;
    Let her alone, she will court you.
Say are not women truly, then,                     5
Styl'd but the shadows of us men ?
At morn and even shades are longest ;
    At noon they are or short, or none :
So men at weakest, they are strongest,
    But grant us perfect, they're not known.
  10
Say, are not women truly, then,
Styl'd but the shadows of us men ?
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On Margaret Ratcliffe


XL.
 ? ON MARGARET RATCLIFFE.
  
M arble, weep, for thou dost cover
A dead beauty underneath thee,
R ich as nature could bequeath thee :
G rant then, no rude hand remove her.

A ll the gazers on the skies
R ead not in fair heaven's story,
E xpresser truth, or truer glory,
T han they might in her bright eyes.

R are as wonder was her wit ;
A nd, like nectar, ever flowing :
T ill time, strong by her bestowing,
C onquer'd hath both life and it ;
L ife, whose grief was out of fashion
I n these times.
  Few so have rued
F ate in a brother.
  To conclude,
F or wit, feature, and true passion,
E arth, thou hast not such another.

[ AJ Note:
   Margaret Ratcliffe was one of Queen Elizabeth's
   ladies-in-waiting.
 She wasted away from grief in
   November 1599, after long mourning the deaths
   of four of her brothers.
]

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Epode

  

XI.
— EPODE.
                  


                 And her black spite expel,
Which to effect (since no breast is so sure,
                 Or safe, but she'll procure
Some way of entrance) we must plant a guard
                 Of thoughts to watch, and ward
At the eye and ear, the ports unto the mind,                 Give knowledge instantly,
To wakeful reason, our affections' king :
                 Who, in th' examining,
Will quickly taste the treason, and commit
                 Close, the close cause of it.

'Tis the securest policy we have,
                 To make our sense our slave.

But this true course is not embraced by many :                 Or else the sentinel,
That should ring larum to the heart, doth sleep ;
                 Or some great thought doth keep
Back the intelligence, and falsely swears,
                 They are base, and idle fears
Whereof the loyal conscience so complains,
                 Thus, by these subtile trains,
Do several passions invade the mind,                 The first ; as prone to move
Most frequent tumults, horrors, and unrests,
                 In our enflamed breasts :
But this doth from the cloud of error grow,
                 Which thus we over-blow.

The thing they here call Love, is blind desire,
                 Arm'd with bow, shafts, and fire ;
Inconstant, like the sea, of whence 'tis born,                 And boils, as if he were
In a continual tempest.
  Now, true love
                 No such effects doth prove ;
That is an essence far more gentle, fine,
                 Pure, perfect, nay divine ;
It is a golden chain let down from heaven,
                 Whose links are bright and even,
That falls like sleep on lovers, and combines                 To murder different hearts,
But in a calm, and god-like unity,
                 Preserves community.

O, who is he, that, in this peace, enjoys
                 The elixir of all joys ?
A form more fresh than are the Eden bowers,
                 And  lasting as her flowers :
Richer than Time, and as time's virtue rare                 Who, blest with such high chance
Would, at suggestion of a steep desire,
                 Cast himself from the spire
Of all his happiness ?   But soft :  I hear
                 Some vicious fool draw near,
That cries, we dream, and swears there's no such thing, 
                 As this chaste love we sing.

Peace, Luxury, thou art like one of those                 No, Vice, we let thee know,
Though thy wild thoughts with sparrows' wings do flie,
                 Turtles can chastly die ;
And yet (in this t' express ourselves more clear)
                 We do not number here
Such spirits as are only continent,
                 Because lust's means are spent :
Or those, who doubt the common mouth of fame,                 Is mere necessity.

Nor mean we those, whom vows and conscience
                 Have fill'd with abstinence :
Though we acknowledge, who can so abstain,
                 Makes a most blessed gain.

He that for love of goodness hateth ill,
                 Is more crown-worthy still,
Than he, which for sin's penalty forbears ;                 Graced with a Phoenix' love ;
A beauty of that clear and sparkling light,
                 Would make a day of night,
And turn the blackest sorrows to bright joys ;
                 Whose odorous breath destroys
All taste of bitterness, and makes the air
                 As sweet as she is fair.

A body so harmoniously composed,                 O, so divine a creature,
Who could be false to?  chiefly, when he knows
                 How only she bestows
The wealthy treasure of her love on him ;
                 Making his fortune swim
In the full flood of her admired perfection ?
                 What savage, brute affection,
Would not be fearful to offend a dame                 To virtuous moods inclined
That knows the weight of guilt ; he will refrain
                 From thoughts of such a strain,
And to his sense object this sentence ever,
                 "Man may securely sin, but safely never.
"


                 Is virtue and not fate :
Next to that virtue, is to know vice well,
                 And her black spite expel,
Which to effect (since no breast is so sure,
                 Or safe, but she'll procure
Some way of entrance) we must plant a guard
                 Of thoughts to watch, and ward
At the eye and ear, the ports unto the mind,
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Of Life and Death


LXXX.
 ? OF LIFE AND DEATH.
  
The ports of death are sins ; of life, good deeds ;
Through which our merit leads us to our meeds.
How wilful blind is he, then, that would stray,
And hath it, in his powers, to make his way !
This world death's region is, the other life's ;
And here, it should be one of our first strifes,
So to front death, as men might judge us past it :
For good men but see death, the wicked taste it.