1638 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ben Jonson

William Habington, "An Elegy upon the Death of Ben Johnson, the most excellent of English Poets" Jonsonius Virbius (1638); Bradley, Jonson Allusion Book (1922) 220-21.



What doth officious fancy here prepare?—
Be't rather this rich kingdom's charge and care
To find a virgin quarry, whence no hand
E'er wrought a tomb on vulgar dust to stand,
And thence bring for this work materials fit:
Great Jonson needs no architect of wit;
Who forc'd from art, receiv'd from nature more
Than doth survive him, or e'er liv'd before.

And, poets, with what veil soe'er you hide,
Your aim, 'twill not be thought your grief, but pride,
Which, that your cypress never growth might want,
Did it near his eternal laurel plant.

Heaven at the death of princes, by the birth
Of some new star, seems to instruct the earth,
How it resents our human fate. Then why
Didst thou, wit's most triumphant monarch, die
Without thy comet? Did the sky despair
To teem a fire, bright as thy glories were?
Or is it by its age, unfruitful grown,
And can produce no light, but what is known,
A common mourner, when a prince's fall
Invites a star t' attend the funeral?
But those prodigious sights only create
Talk for the vulgar: Heaven, before thy fate,
That thou thyself might'st thy own dirges hear,
Made the sad stage close mourner for a year;
The stage, which (as by an instinct divine,
Instructed) seeing its own fate in thine,
And knowing how it ow'd its life to thee,
Prepared itself thy sepulchre to be;
And had continued so, but that thy wit,
Which as the soul, first animated it,
Still hovers here below, and ne'er shall die,
Till time be buried in eternity.

But you! whose comic labors on the stage,
Against the envy of a froward age
Hold combat! how will now your vessels sail,
The seas so broken and the winds so frail,
Such rocks, such shallows threat'ning every where
And Jonson dead, whose art your course might steer?

Look up! where Seneca and Sophocles,
Quick Plautus and sharp Aristophanes,
Enlighten yon bright orb! doth not your eye,
Among them, one far larger fire, descry,
At which their lights grow pale? 'tis Jonson, there
He shines your Star, who was your Pilot here.