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.

Two Poems by Rudyard Kipling

Joseph Rudyard Kipling, 1895

While arguably best known for his collection of short stories entitled The Jungle Book (1894), English writer Rudyard Kipling is also widely recognized as a talented poet. Voted the UK’s most popular poem in a 1996 poll conducted by the BBC, Kipling’s “If—” still resonates more than 125 after its 1895 conception.

Kipling’s Diamond Jubilee poem, “Recessional” might have some familiar lines to even casual observers. The phrase “lest we forget,” commonly associated with Remembrance Sunday in the UK and even Memorial Day in the U.S., originated from this poem.

It is often argued that both of these poems are far more complex in sentiment than Kipling is often given credit for. Decide for yourself after reading each of these classic pieces, provided here below.


If—

If you can keep your head when all about you
      Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
      But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
      Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
      And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
      If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
      And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
      Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
      And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
      And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
      And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
      To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
      Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
      Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
      If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
      With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
      And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!


Recessional

God of our fathers, known of old,
      Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
      Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
      The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
      An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
      On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
      Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
      Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
      Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
      In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
      And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

Two Poems by John McCrae

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

Sometimes a poet can write for their entire life and still be forgotten…and then there is John McCrae (1872-1918). With one magnificent poem, this Canadian military physician forever secured his place in the pantheon of classical poetry. First published in Punch magazine, “In Flanders Fields” has subsequently been anthologized countless times in textbooks throughout the English-speaking world. It is this poem that precipitated the adoption of the poppy by Britain and the British commonwealth as the official Flower of Remembrance to honor those soldiers killed in World War I. This poem and the poem below it, “The Pilgrims,” are two of a small handful of poems posthumously published as In Flanders Fields and Other Poems in 1919.


In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


The Pilgrims

An uphill path, sun-gleams between the showers,
Where every beam that broke the leaden sky
Lit other hills with fairer ways than ours;
Some clustered graves where half our memories lie;
And one grim Shadow creeping ever nigh:
And this was Life.

Wherein we did another’s burden seek,
The tired feet we helped upon the road,
The hand we gave the weary and the weak,
The miles we lightened one another’s load,
When, faint to falling, onward yet we strode:
This too was Life.

Till, at the upland, as we turned to go
Amid fair meadows, dusky in the night,
The mists fell back upon the road below;
Broke on our tired eyes the western light;
The very graves were for a moment bright:
And this was Death.

Two Poems by Sara Teasdale

Sara Trevor Teasdale, 1907

First published in her twenties, Sara Trevor Teasdale would, in a little over ten years’ time, receive the Pulitzer Prize for her 1917 poetry collection, Love Songs. A life of loneliness, a divorce, and ultimately suicide contrast sharply with expectations of happiness that such tremendous talent and early success would suggest was her due.

In 1933, Teasdale was found dead in her apartment in a bathtub of warm water at the age of 48. There was no visible evidence of suicide; however, she had been depressed and had discussed it with a friend recently. .It is often suggested that the latter of the poems below, “I Shall Not Care,” was written as a suicide note; however, it was published almost two decades before her death. Despite her relatively short life, Teasdale wrote over 600 poems and published seven collections of poetry.


The Silent Battle

In Memory of J. W. T. Jr.

HE was a soldier in that fight
Where there is neither flag nor drum,
And without sound of musketry
The stealthy foemen come.
Year in, year out, by day and night
They forced him to a slow retreat,
And for his gallant fight alone
No fife was blown, and no drum beat.
In winter fog, in gathering mist
The gray grim battle had its end—
And at the very last we knew
His enemy had turned his friend.


I Shall Not Care

When I am dead and over me bright April
Shakes out her rain-drenched hair,
Tho’ you should lean above me broken-hearted,
I shall not care.

I shall have peace, as leafy trees are peaceful
When rain bends down the bough,
And I shall be more silent and cold-hearted
Than you are now

Two Poems by Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

Best known as a father of free verse, American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892) famously wrote impressively in both free verse and more traditional style about his feelings and experiences during the American Civil War. His occupations famously included volunteer service as a nurse during the war, which gave him much inspiration in his literary and journalistic career, which resumed thereafter. His observations and experiences both as a nurse and a Union sympathizer inspired some of his most widely known and admired poems. “O Captain, My Captain!” and “Beat! Beat! Drums!,” are two such pieces.

 

O Captain! My Captain!

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
                         But O heart! heart! heart!
                            O the bleeding drops of red,
                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.
 
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
                         Here Captain! dear father!
                            This arm beneath your head!
                               It is some dream that on the deck,
                                 You’ve fallen cold and dead.
 
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
                         Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
                            But I with mournful tread,
                               Walk the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.

 

Beat! Beat! Drums!

Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows—through doors—burst like a ruthless force,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
Into the school where the scholar is studying,
Leave not the bridegroom quiet—
          no happiness must he have now with his bride,
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering his grain,
So fierce you whirr and pound you drums—so shrill you bugles blow.
 
Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Over the traffic of cities—over the rumble of wheels in the streets;
Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses?
          no sleepers must sleep in those beds,
No bargainers’ bargains by day—no brokers or speculators—
          would they continue?
Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt to sing?
Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case before the judge?
Then rattle quicker, heavier drums—you bugles wilder blow.
 
Beat! beat! drums!—blow! bugles! blow!
Make no parley—stop for no expostulation,
Mind not the timid—mind not the weeper or prayer,
Mind not the old man beseeching the young man,
Let not the child’s voice be heard, nor the mother’s entreaties,
Make even the trestles to shake the dead where they lie awaiting the hearses,
So strong you thump O terrible drums—so loud you bugles blow.

Two Poems by John Donne

John Donne (1572-1631)

Ordered to take on holy orders by the king, British poet John Donne (1572-1631) actually wore many hats in his lifetime. In addition to his position as Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Donne was a poet, scholar, secretary, soldier, and member of Parliament. His prolific volume of literary work includes everything from sonnets to sermons. His metaphysical poetry sometimes touches on profound questions of religious faith while at other times can be surprisingly erotic and sensual. “Death Be Not Proud” and “The Good-Morrow,” are two of his most celebrated works.

 

Death Be Not Proud

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

 

The Good-Morrow

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres,
Without sharp north, without declining west?
Whatever dies, was not mixed equally;
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.

Two Poems by John Keats

John_Keats_by_William_HiltonDead from tuberculosis by the age of 25, British poet John Keats (1795-1821) nonetheless has become second perhaps only to William Shakespeare as a renowned poet of classical English literature. He is, to the present day, looked upon with reverence as an inspiration to the craft. Regarded as among the most skilled of the Romantics, Keats’ poetry is noted as being heavily loaded with emotion, most often expressed through natural imagery. Keats is one of the many poets whose work was only fully appreciated after his death. The poems below, “Ode to a Nightingale” and “Ode to a Grecian Urn,” are two of his most celebrated works.

Ode to a Nightingale

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
    My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
    One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
    But being too happy in thine happiness,—
        That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
                In some melodious plot
    Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
        Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
    I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
    To take into the air my quiet breath;
        Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
    To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
        While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
                In such an ecstasy!
    Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
    To thy high requiem become a sod.

Ode to a Grecian Urn

Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
       Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
       A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape
       Of deities or mortals, or of both,
               In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
       What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
               What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
       Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
       Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
       Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
               Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
       She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
               For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
         Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
         For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
         For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
                For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
         That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
                A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
         To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
         And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
         Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
                Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
         Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
                Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
         Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
         Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
         When old age shall this generation waste,
                Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
         "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."