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Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Song by Ben Jonson

           to Celia
     By BEN JONSON (1572-1637)
Ben Jonson | English writer | Britannica
Drink to me only with thine eyes,
         And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
         And I’ll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
         Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,
         I would not change for thine.

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
         Not so much honouring thee
As giving it a hope, that there
         It could not withered be.
But thou thereon didst only breathe,
         And sent’st it back to me;
Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,
         Not of itself, but thee.

Although more famous as a song, this poem, first published in 1616, is by far the best-known work of the English playwright and poet Ben Jonson.

The first half of the poem is a witty series of variations on the lover’s pledge. Traditionally, a lover would toast his or her love and drink a glass of wine; here, the poet asks only for a pledge from Celia’s eyes—a loving look—that he promises to return in kind. He says that if she leaves a kiss in the cup, he will have no need for the wine but we can’t be sure how much Celia likes the speaker. The thirst that he mentions in line five is not literal but for love.
He tells us about how he sent her a wreath of flowers once, but she returned it. Even though she returned it, it never wilted. Somehow, Celia breathing on the wreath has given it eternal life.
There is a marked contrast between the first and second stanza. In the first one the poet is making light-hearted and witty remarks to the lady he admires but the second one becomes more serious. The rejected wreath he has sent is something more concrete.

I'm listening to Landslide by the Dixie Chicks. I think it's better than the Fleetwood Mac original version. Have a listen here!


Hels said...

I am not surprised this was better known as a song, rather than a poem. People remember every word and note of music they learned when they were teens, even 50 years later.

Parnassus said...

Hello Bazza, When I collected early records this selection was a standard often sung by the greatest singers. Here is a revision I found from 1910 sung by John McCormack:


bazza said...

Hels: You are so right! There are those who deny that any lyrics can be poetry; I say look at Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon.

bazza said...

Jim: I feel that John McCormack was such an expressive and emotional singer but his fame is not much recognised. That recording is wonderful and such good quality for 1910. Thank you.

Parnassus said...

Hello again, Fame certainly is fleeting. In his day, McCormack was a household name, and considered THE Irish tenor. If you browse among 78rpm records, you will constantly encounter his efforts, which were best-sellers back then, and most of them have been reissued on LP's and CD's, not to mention Youtube.

bazza said...

Jim: I have lovely memories of my late Mother-in-Law, who was from Dublin, singing "The Garden Where the Praties Grow". That was how, many years ago, I first heard of John McCormack!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bazza - I always love finding out where 'well known' songs originated ... I hate to say I thought it was a Robbie Burns one ... but obviously not! I think it's wonderful that we are able to record - both annotated and also musically for future generations and our history.

Take care and stay safe - Hilary

bazza said...

Hilary: That's something that is also of interest to me. I'm always looking things up and when I read a novel I HAVE to look up words that I'm not sure of. Having most of the world's knowledge accessible online is great!

Sherry Ellis said...

It's interesting to read love poems written from so long ago. This one certainly seems to be unrequited love. I purchased a couple of chocolate candy bars this week and was surprised to find love poems written inside the wrappers. One was Elegy XVIII: Love's Progress by John Donne. Have you ever read it? I had to read it several times to try to figure out what John was trying to say. I think I got it. :)

bazza said...

Sherry: I just took my first look at that poem. Wow! It's rather deep and not what you would expect to find inside a candy bar. I'll have to get back to you on that one....

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

You're right. I think more people remember the poem you shared because of the song. I remember singing the song as a teenager... I'm not sure, but I think it was one of the oldies but goodies done by Mitch Miller.

Pssst! They aren't Dixie Chicks any more. Just Chicks.

Thanks for the touching comment you left on my blog.

bazza said...

Hi Susan. Nice to hear from you again! They were the Dixie Chicks at the time of that recording!