1659 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Ben Jonson

Anonymous, "An Elegie on Ben. Johnson" J. Cleaveland Revived (1659) 43-47.



Poet of Princes, Prince of Poets (wee,
If to Apollo well may pray to thee,)
Give Gloworms leave to peep, who till thy night
Could not be seen, we darkned were with light;
For Stars t' appear after the fall oth' Sun,
Is at the least modest presumption.
I've seen a great Lamp lighted by the small
Spark of a flint found in a field, or wall,
Our inner Verse faintly may shaddow forth
A dull reflection of thy glorious worth,
And like a statue homely fashion'd, raise
Some trophies to thy mem'ry, though not praise.
Those shallow Sirs, who want sharp sight to look
On the majestick splendour of thy book,
That rather chuse to hear an Archy prate,
Then the full sense of a learn'd Laureate,
May, when they see thy name thus plainly writ,
Admire the solemn measure of thy wit,
And like thy works beyond a gawdy show
Of boords and canvass, wrought by Inigo.
Ploughmen, who puzzled are with figures, come
By tallies to the reck'ning of a sum,
And milk-sop heirs, which from their mothers lap·
Scarce travell'd, know far countryes by a map.
Shakespeare may make griefs, merry Beaumonts stile
Ravish and melt anger into a smile;
In winter nights, or after meals, they be,
I must confesse, very good companie:
But thou exact'st our best hours industrie,
We may read them, we ought to study thee;
Thy scenes are precepts, every verse doth give
Counsell, and teach us, not to laugh, but live.
You that with towring thoughts presume so high
(Swell'd with a vain ambitions tympany)
To dream on Scepters, whose brave mischief calls
The bloud of Kings to their last funeralls,
Learn from Sejanus his high fall, to prove
To thy dread Sovereigne a sacred love;
Let him suggest a reverend fear to thee,
And may his Tragedy thy Lecture be;
Learn the compendious age of slippery power
That's built on blood, and may one little hour
Teach thy bold rashnesse, that it is not safe,
To build a kingdom on a Caesars grave;
Thy plays were whipt and libell'd, only 'cause
They're good, and savor of our Kingdoms laws,
Histrio-Mastix (lightning like) doth wound
Those things alone that solid are and sound.
Thus guilty men hate justice, so a glass,
Is sometimes broke for shewing a foul face;
There's none that wish thee rods, in stead of bays,
But such whose very hate adds to thy praise;
Let Scriblers (that write post, and versifie
With no more leasure than we cast a die)
Spur on their Pegasus, and proudly cry,
This verse I made i'th' twinkling of an eye;
Thou could'st have done so, hadst thou thought it fit,
But 'twas the wisdom of thy Muse to sit
And weigh each syllable, suffring nought to pass,
But what could be no better than it was;
Those that keep pompous state, ne're go in hast;
Thou went'st before them all, though not so fast;
While their poor cobweb-stuff findes as quick fate,
As birth, and sels like Alm'nacks out of date;
The marbled glory of thy labour'd rhime
Shall live beyond the Calendar of time,
Who will their Meteors 'bove thy Sun advance;
Thine are the works of Judgement, theirs of Chance.
How this whole Kingdome's in thy debt, we have
From others periwigs and paints, to save
Our ruin'd sculs, and faces; but to thee
We owe our tongues, and fancies remedie.
Thy Poems make us Poets, we may lack
(Reading thy book) stoln sentences and Sack.
He that can but one speech of thine rehearse,
Whether he will or no, must make a verse.
Thus trees give fruit, the kernels of that fruit
Do bring forth trees, which in more branches shoot.
Our Canting English (of it self alone)
(I had almost laid a confusion)
Is now all harmony; what we did say
Before was tuning onely, this is play.
Strangers who cannot reach thy sense will throng,
To hear us speak the accents of thy tongue,
As unto birds that sing: if't be so good
When heard alone, what is't when understood!
Thou shalt be read as Classick Authours; and
As Greek and Latine taught in every land.
The cringing Monsieur shall thy language vent,
When he would melt his wench with complement;
Using thy phrases he may have his wish
Of a coy Nun, without an angry pish:
And yet in all thy Poems there is showne
Such chastity, that every lin's a zone.
Rome will confesse, that thou mak'st Caesar talk
In greater state and pomp than he could walk:
Catalines tongue is the true edge of swords,
We now not onely feel, but hear thy words;
Who Tully in thy Idiom understands,
Will swear that his Orations are commands:
But that which could with richer language dresse
The highest sense, cannot thy words expresse.
Had I thy own invention, which affords
Words above action, matter above words,
To crown thy merits, I should onely be
Sumptuously poor, low in Hyperbole.