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Hymn to Diana -- Ben Jonson

This week's theme: the Moon.
(Poem #724) Hymn to Diana
 Queen and huntress, chaste and fair,
 Now the sun is laid to sleep,
 Seated in thy silver chair,
 State in wonted manner keep:
        Hesperus entreats thy light,
        Goddess excellently bright.

 Earth, let not thy envious shade
 Dare itself to interpose;
 Cynthia's shining orb was made
 Heaven to clear when day did close:
        Bless us then with wishèd sight,
        Goddess excellently bright.

 Lay thy bow of pearl apart,
 And thy crystal-shining quiver;
 Give unto the flying hart
 Space to breathe, how short soever;
        Thou that mak'st a day of night,
        Goddess excellently bright.
-- Ben Jonson
[Glossary]

Diana: the Roman goddess of wild animals and the hunt. Corresponds to the
Greek Artemis, who in turn is associated with Selene, the goddess of the
moon.

Cynthia: a surname of Artemis or Diana. From Mount Cynthus, where she was
born.

Hesperus: the evening star. Variously described by different authors as the
father of the Hesperides (the guardians of the golden apples) or of their
mother, Hesperis. Incidentally, the word 'vespers' (meaning 'evensong', or,
more generally, 'evening'), derives from the name.

        -- culled from various sources, pre-eminent among them being
Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, available online at
www.bibliomania.com

[Commentary]

This is Ben Jonson at his lyric best; the master dramatist (second only to
Shakespeare in his own era; some claim the position as his for all time)
mixes classical grace with a surety and lightness of touch that even the
Bard rarely attained.

thomas.

[Links]

Other poems by Ben Jonson on the Minstrels website:
  Poem #301, "The Noble Nature"
  Poem #313, "Gypsy Songs"
  Poem #340, "To Celia"
The second of these has a biography and critical assessment attached.

For more wonderful lyrics from the Elizabethan era, see
  Poem #565, "Now Winter Nights Enlarge", Thomas Campion
  Poem #384, "Song", John Donne

[More about Diana]

  In Roman religion, goddess of wild animals and the hunt, virtually
indistinguishable from the Greek goddess Artemis. Her name is akin to the
Latin words dium ("sky") and dius ("daylight"). Like her Greek counterpart,
she was also a goddess of domestic animals. As a fertility deity she was
invoked by women to aid conception and delivery. Though perhaps originally
an indigenous woodland goddess, Diana early became identified with Artemis.
There was probably no original connection between Diana and the moon, but
she later absorbed Artemis' identification with both Selene (Luna) and
Hecate, a chthonic (infernal) deity; hence the characterization triformis
sometimes used in Latin literature.

  The most famous place of worship for the Italian goddess was the grove of
Diana Nemorensis ("Diana of the Wood") on the shores of Lake Nemi at Aricia,
near Rome. This was a shrine common to the cities of the Latin League.
Associated with Diana at Aricia were Egeria, the spirit of a nearby stream
who shared with Diana the guardianship of childbirth, and the hero Virbius
(the Italian counterpart of Hippolytus), who was said to have been the first
priest of Diana's cult at Aricia. A unique and peculiar custom dictated that
this priest be a runaway slave and that he slay his predecessor in combat.

  At Rome the most important temple of Diana was on the Aventine. This
temple housed the foundation charter of the Latin League and was said to
date back to King Servius Tullius (6th century BC). In her cult there Diana
was also considered the protector of the lower classes, especially slaves;
the Ides (13th) of August, her festival at Rome and Aricia, was a holiday
for slaves. Another important centre for the worship of Diana was at
Ephesus, where the Temple of Artemis (or Diana) was one of the Seven Wonders
of the World. In Roman art Diana usually appears as a huntress with bow and
quiver, accompanied by a hound or deer.

        -- EB

[Moreover]

  The phrase "how short soever" in the third stanza is a rare (but
excellent) example of 'tmesis', which the OED defines as "the separation of
the elements of a compound word by the interposition of another word or
words".

  Mike Oldfield uses an excerpt (three lines) from "Hymn to Diana" in his
1978 album "Incantations". More prominence in the said album is given to a
rather longish selection from Longfellow's "Song of Hiawatha", Poem #362 on
the Minstrels website. In yet another demonstration of the fundamental
interconnectedness of all things, it was only last week that we ran another
Longfellow poem, "The Wreck of the (wait for it!) Hesperus". So now you
know.

17 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Jason Nyilas said...

Benjamin Britten uses the words from this poem and sets them to music in his
"Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings." Peter Pears is the tenor. I find
"Serenade" takes the already beautiful poem to new heights. If you have not
heard this piece of music, a true delight awaits.
Jason

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