Two Poems by Ben Jonson

Ben Jonson by Abraham Blyenberch, c. 1617

A contemporary of William Shakespeare, English poet Ben Jonson’s most successful period as a literary figure probably occurred from 1605 to 1620.

Jonson was known as much if not more so as a playwright than as a poet. Not only was Jonson in the same location at the same time doing the same thing as William Shakespeare, but Shakespeare actually acted in Every Man in His Humour, one of Jonson’s most famous plays. His poetry was notable as well, with Song of Celia and On My First Son being two poems often regarded among his best. Jonson died in August 1637 at the age of 65. Upon his death, he was buried in Westminster Abbey, where his funeral was attended by nobility of the time.


On My First Son

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
      My sin was too much hope of thee, lov’d boy.
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
      Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.

Oh, could I lose all father now! For why
      Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon ‘scaped world’s and flesh’s rage,
      And if no other misery, yet age!

Rest in soft peace, and, asked, say, Here doth lie
      Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such
      As what he loves may never like too much.


Song to Celia

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 withered be.
But thou thereon didst only breathe,
      And sent’st it back to me;
Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,
      Not of itself, but thee.

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