To the Memory of My Beloved the Author, Mr. William Shakespeare

BY BEN JONSON

Ben JonsonBen Jonson

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 seem’d 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 th’ 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 disproportion’d 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. 

Tri’umph, 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 joy’d 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-turned, and true-filed lines; 

In each of which he seems to shake a lance, 

As brandish’d 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 

Advanc’d, 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 mourn’d like night, 

And despairs day, but for thy volume’s light.
.
A reminder that on April 27 we will be reading and discussing poetry and other literature about, or inspired by, Shakespeare, his works and characters. Please bring your own selection of this genre for discussion and, if you wish, post it first on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for selections posted to-date.

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