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Gypsy Songs -- Ben Jonson

And with Shakespeare done, can Jonson be far behind?
(Poem #313) Gypsy Songs
The faery beam upon you,
The stars to glister on you;
    A moon of light
    In the noon of night,
Till the fire-drake hath o'ergone you!
The wheel of fortune guide you,
The boy with the bow beside you;
    Run ay in the way
    Till the bird of day,
And the luckier lot betide you!

To the old, long life and treasure!
To the young all health and pleasure!
    To the fair, their face
    With eternal grace
And the soul to be loved at leisure!
To the witty, all clear mirrors;
To the foolish, their dark errors;
    To the loving sprite,
    A secure delight;
To the jealous, his own false terrors!
-- Ben Jonson
I like this poem for its affinities with medieval and Old
English verse, especially the ritual chants and rhymes of
blessing - Jonson captures the feeling of benediction very
well indeed, while the mystical/pagan undertones of words
like 'faery', 'fire-drake' and of course 'gypsy' add to the
overall effect.



Ben Jonson, 1572–1637, English dramatist and poet, b.
Westminster, London.

The high-spirited buoyancy of Jonson's plays and the
brilliance of his language have earned him a reputation as
one of the great playwrights in English literature. After a
brief term at bricklaying, his stepfather's trade, and after
military service in Flanders, he began working for Philip
Henslowe as an actor and playwright. In 1598 he was tried
for killing another actor in a duel but escaped execution by
claiming right of clergy (that he could read and write). His
first important play, Every Man in His Humour, was produced
in 1598, with Shakespeare in the cast. In 1599 its companion
piece, Every Man out of His Humour, was produced. In The
Poetaster (1601) Jonson satirized several of his fellow
playwrights, particularly Dekker and Marston, who were
writing at that time for a rival company of child actors. He
collaborated with Chapman and Marston on the comedy Eastward
Ho! (1604). A passage in the play, derogatory to the Scots,
offended James I, and the three playwrights spent a brief
time in prison. Jonson's great period, both artistically and
financially, began in 1606 with the production of Volpone.
This was followed by his three other comic masterpieces,
Epicoene (1609), The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair
(1614). Jonson became a favorite of James I and wrote many
excellent masques for the court. He was the author of two
Roman tragedies, Sejanus (1603) and Catiline (1611). With
the unsuccessful production of The Devil Is an Ass in 1616
Jonson's good fortune declined rapidly. His final plays were
failures, and with the accession of Charles I in 1625 his
value at court was less appreciated.

His plays, written along classical lines, are marked by a
pungent and uncompromising satire, by a liveliness of
action, and by numerous humor characters, whose single
passion or oddity overshadows all their other traits. He was
a moralist who sought to improve the ways of men by
portraying human foibles and passions through exaggeration
and distortion. Jonson's nondramatic poetry includes
Epigrams (1616); The Forrest (1616), notable for the two
beautiful songs: `Drink to me only with thine eyes' and
`Come, my Celia, let us prove'; and Underwoods (1640). His
principal prose work Timber or Discoveries (1640) is a
collection of notes and reflections on miscellaneous
subjects. Jonson exerted a strong influence over his
contemporaries. Although arrogant and contentious, he was a
boon companion, and his followers, sometimes called the
`sons of Ben,' loved to gather with him in the London
taverns. Examples of his conversation were recorded in
Conversations with Ben Jonson by Drummond of Hawthornden.

    -- Infoplease,


Ben Jonson occupies by common consent the second place among
English dramatists of the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I.
He was a man of contraries. For "twelve years a papist," he
was also--in fact though not in title--Protestant England's
first poet laureate. His major comedies express a strong
distaste for the world in which he lived and a delight in
exposing its follies and vices. A gifted lyric poet, he
wrote two of his most successful plays entirely in prose, an
unusual mode of composition in his time. Though often an
angry and stubborn man, no one had more disciples than he.
He was easily the most learned dramatist of his time, and he
was also a master of theatrical plot, language, and

    -- EB,


For a minute there I was wondering if this poem was the
source of the phrase 'Wheel of Fortune', but Brewer assures
me otherwise:

Wheel of Fortune (The). Fortuna, the goddess, is represented
on ancient monuments with a wheel in her hand, emblematical
of her inconstancy.

     `Though Fortune's malice overthrow my state.
     My mind exceeds the compass of her wheel.'
     Shakespeare: 3 Henry VI., iv. 3.

    -- Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable,

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