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To the Memory of My Beloved Master William Shakespeare, and What He Hath Left Us -- Ben Jonson

Another guest poem submitted by Mac Robb:
(Poem #1494) To the Memory of My Beloved Master William Shakespeare, and What He Hath Left Us
 To draw no envy, SHAKESPEARE, 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 SHAKESPEARE 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 Shakespeare, 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 Shakespeare'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.
-- Ben Jonson
I appear to have ignited a conflagration of swansongs.

One more famous Elizabethan swan: the "Swan of Avon," a sobriquet for
Shakespeare which originates with Ben Jonson (1572-1637) in this poem.
It is rather more lengthy than the usual Minstrels poem-a-day fare but
it repays a bit of attention.

It is the epigraph to the first folio edition of Shakespeare's works,
1623. Jonson was the mentor of the poets who styled themselves the "sons
of Ben" and whom we know as the Cavalier poets. He was appointed Poet
Laureate by James I; the position involved considerable prestige and
brought a substantial honorarium - a significant departure from
Shakespeare's anonymous commercial preoccupations. His celebration of
Shakespeare's genius had much to do with the Swan's posthumous
veneration and survival through the ensuing Cromwellian Commonwealth
when the theatre was suppressed. Grim Puritans in England and America
continued to regard Shakespeare and the English Bible as their
literature and we probably should thank Ben Jonson for Shakespeare's
survival in the canon through those trying times for the frivolous arts.

40 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Anonymous said...

interesting take on the poem. Never considered him a strong reason as to why Shakespeare remained relevant. "...thank Ben Jonson for Shakespeare's survival in the canon through those trying times for the frivolous arts."

Great analysis.

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