Ben Jonson's Poetry

(based on Ben Jonson: Poems, ed. Ian Donaldson, Oxford, 1975)


a. Jonson's Epithalamium: "Epithalamion ... Jerome Weston ..."



or, a Song, Celebrating the Nuptials

of that Noble Gentleman, Mr. Jerome Weston,

Son and Heir of the Lord Weston, Lord High Treasurer of


with the Lady Frances Stuart,

Daughter of Esmë Duke of Lennox, Deceased,

and Sister of the Surviving Duke of the Same Name*


1. Though thou hast passed thy summer standing, stay

Awhile with us, bright sun, and help our light;

Thou canst not meet more glory on the way

Between thy tropics, to arrest thy sight,

Than thou shalt see today:

We woo thee, stay

And see what can be seen,

The bounty of a king, and beauty of his queen!


2. See the procession! What a holy day

(Bearing the promise of some better fate)

Hath filled with caroches all the way

From Greenwich hither to Roehampton gate!

When looked the year, at best,

So like a feast?

Or were affairs in tune

By all the spheres' consent, so in the heart of June?


3. What bevy of beauties, and bright youths at charge

Of summer's liveries and gladding green,

Do boast their loves and braveries so at large

As they came all to see, and to be seen!

When looked the earth so fine,

Or so did shine,

In all her bloom and flower

To welcome home a pair, and deck the nuptial bower?


4. It is the kindly season of the time,

The month of youth, which calls all creatures forth

To do their offices in nature's chime,

And celebrate (perfection at the worth)

Marriage, the end of life,

That holy strife,

And the allowed war:

Through which not only we, but all our species are.


5. Hark how the bells upon the waters play

Their sister-tunes from Thames's either side!

As they had learned new changes for the day,

And all did ring the approaches of the bride;

The Lady Frances, dressed

Above the rest

Of all the maidens fair,

In graceful ornament of garland, gems, and hair.


6. See how she paceth forth in virgin white,

Like what she is, the daughter of a duke,

And sister; darting forth a dazzling light

On all that come her simplesse to rebuke!

Her tresses trim her back,

As she did lack

Nought of a maiden queen,

With modesty so crowned, and adoration seen.


7. Stay, thou wilt see what rites the virgins do!

The choicest virgin-troop of all the land;

Porting the ensigns of united two,

Both crowns and kingdoms in their either hand;

Whose majesties appear,

To make more clear

This feast than can the day,

Although that thou, 0 sun, at our entreaty stay!


8. See, how with roses and with lilies shine

(Lilies and roses, flowers of either sex)

The bright bride's path, embellished more than thine

With light of love, this pair doth intertex!

Stay, see the virgins sow

Where she shall go

The emblems of their way:

Oh, now thou smil'st, fair sun, and shin'st, as thou wouldst stay!


9. With what full hands, and in how plenteous showers,

Have they bedewed the earth where she doth tread,

As if her airy steps did spring the flowers,

And all the ground were garden, where she led!

See, at another door,

On the same floor,

The bridegroom meets the bride

With all the pomp of youth, and all our court beside.


10. Our court, and all the grandees; now, sun, look,

And looking with thy best inquiry, tell,

In all the age of journals thou hast took

Saw'st thou that pair became these rites so well,

Save the preceding two?

Who, in all they do,

Search, sun, and thou wilt find,

They are the exampled pair, and mirror of their kind,


11. Force from the phoenix, then, no rarity

Of sex, to rob the creature; but from man,

The king of creatures, take his parity

With angels, muse, to speak these: nothing can

Illustrate these, but they

Themselves today,

Who the whole act express;

All else we see beside are shadows, and go less.


12. It is their grace and favour that makes seen

And wondered at the bounties of this day:

All is a story of the king and queen!

And what of dignity and honour may

Be duly done to those

Whom they have chose,

And set the mark upon

To give a greater name and title to: their own!


14. Weston, their treasure, as their treasurer,

That mine of wisdom and of counsels deep,

Great say-master of state, who cannot err,

But doth his carat and just standard keep 100

In all the proved assays,

And legal ways

Of trials, to work down

Men's love unto the laws, and laws to love the crown.


14. And this well moved the judgement of the king

To pay with honours to his noble son,

Today, the father's service, who could bring

Him up to do the same himself had done.

That far all-seeing eye

Could soon espy

What kind of waking man

He had so highly set, and in what Barbican.


15. Stand there; for when a noble nature's raised

It brings friends joy, foes grief, posterity fame;

In him the times, no less than prince, are praised,

And by his rise, in active men his name

Doth emulation stir;

To the dull, a spur

It is: to the envious meant

A mere upbraiding grief, and torturing punishment.


16. See, now the chapel opens, where the king

And bishop stay to consummate the rites:

The holy prelate prays, then takes the ring,

Asks first, Who gives her? (I, Charles):** then he plights

One in the other's hand,

Whilst they both stand

Hearing their charge, and then

The solemn choir cries, Joy, and they return, Amen.


17. O happy bands! and thou more happy place,

Which to this use wert built and consecrate!

To have thy God to bless, thy king to grace,

And this their chosen bishop celebrate

And knit the nuptial knot,

Which time shall not,

Or cankered jealousy,

With all corroding arts, be able to untie!


18. The chapel empties, and thou mayst be gone

Now, sun, and post away the rest of day:

These two, now holy church hath made them one,

Do long to make themselves so, another way:

There is a feast behind

To them of kind,

Which their glad parents taught

One to the other, long ere these to light were brought.


19. Haste, haste, officious sun, and send them night

Some hours before it should, that these may know

All that their fathers and their mothers might

Of nuptial sweets, at such a season, owe,

To propagate their names,

And keep their fames

Alive, which else would die,

For fame keeps virtue up, and it posterity.


20. The ignoble never lived, they were awhile

Like swine, or other cattle here on earth:

Their names are not recorded on the file

Of life, that fall so; Christians know their birth

Alone, and such a race

We pray may grace

Your fruitful spreading vine,

But dare not ask our wish in language fescennine.


21. Yet, as we may, we will with chaste desires

(The holy perfumes of the marriage bed)

Be kept alive those sweet and sacred fires

Of love between you and your lovelihead:

That when you both are old,

You find no cold

There; but, renewed, say

(After the last child born), This is our wedding day.


22. Till you behold a race to fill your hall,

A Richard, and a Jerome, by their names

Upon a Thomas, or a Francis call;

A Kate, a Frank, to honour their granddames,***

And 'tween their grandsires' thighs,

Like pretty spies,

Peep forth a gem; to see

How each one plays his part of the large pedigree.


23. And never may there want one of the stem

To be a watchful servant for this state;

But like an arm of eminence, 'mongst them

Extend a reaching virtue, early and late:

Whilst the main tree, still found

Upright and sound,

By this sun's noonstead's made

So great; his body now alone projects the shade.


24. They both are slipped to bed; shut fast the door,

And let him freely gather love's first fruits;

He's master of the office; yet no more

Exacts than she is pleased to pay: no suits,

Strifes, murmurs, or delay,

Will last till day;

Night and the sheets will show

The longing couple all that elder lovers know.

*Jerome Weston was... Frances Stuart (1617-94) was the daughter of Jonson's former patron Esme Stuart. The marriage took place at Rochampton Chapel on 25 June 1632.

**After the death of her father in 1624, Frances became the ward of the king (Charles I); he arranged the marriage.

***These are family names; in fact, Jerome and Frances had one son, Charles, born in 1639.


b. Jonson's Death Elegy: "An Elegy ... Jane Paulet"


An Elegy

on the Lady Jane Paulet,*

Marchioness of Winton


What gentle ghost, besprent with April dew,
	Hails me so solemnly to yonder yew,
And beckoning woos me, from the fatal tree
	To pluck a garland for herself, or me?
I do obey you, beauty! for in death
	You seem a fair one. Oh, that you had breath
To give your shade a name! Stay, stay, I feel
	A horror in me, all my blood is steel! -
Stiff, stark, my joints 'gainst one another knock!
	He's good as great. I am almost a stone!
And ere I can ask more of her, she's gone.
	Alas, I am all marble! Write the rest
Thou wouldst have written, fame, upon my breast:
	It is a large fair table, and a true, is
And the disposure will be something new,
	When I, who would her poet have become,
At least may bear the inscription to her tomb.
	She was the Lady Jane, and Marchioness
Of Winchester-the heralds can tell this: ................................20
	Earl Rivers' grandchild-serve not forms, good fame,
Sound thou her virtues, give her soul a name.
	Had I a thousand mouths, as many tongues,
And voice to raise them from my brazen lungs,
	I durst not aim at that: the dotes were such
Thereof, no notion can express how much
	Their carat was! I or my trump must break,
But rather I, should I of that part speak!
	It is too near of kin to heaven, the soul,
To be described; fame's fingers are too foul ..........................30
	To touch these mysteries. We may admire
The blaze and splendour, but not handle fire!
	What she did here by great example well
To enlive posterity, her fame may tell;
	And, calling truth to witness, make that good
From the inherent graces in her blood!
	Else, who doth praise a person by a new
But a feigned way, doth rob it of the true.
	Her sweetness, softness, her fair courtesy,
Her wary guards, her wise simplicity,....................................40
	Were like a ring of virtues 'bout her set,
And piety the centre, where all met.
	A reverend state she had, an awful eye,
A dazzling, yet inviting majesty:
	What nature, fortune, institution, fact
Could sum to a perfection, was her act!
	How did she leave the world, with what contempt!
Just as she in it lived, and so exempt
	From all affection. When they urged the cure
Of her disease, how did her soul assure................................50
	Her sufferings, as the body had been away!
And to the torturers, her doctors, say,
	Stick on your cupping-glasses, fear not, put
Your hottest caustics to, burn, lance, or cut:
	'Tis but a body which you can torment,
And I into the world all soul was sent!
	Then comforted her lord, and blessed her son
Cheered her fair sisters in her race to run,
	With gladness tempered her sad parents' tears,
Made her friends' joys to get above their fears,.............60
	And, in her last act, taught the standers-by
With admiration and applause to die.
	Let angels sing her glories, who did call
Her spirit home to her original;
	Who saw the way was made it, and were sent
To carry and conduct the complement
	'Twixt death and life; where her mortality
Became her birthday to eternity. -
	And now, through circumfused light, she looks
On nature's secrets, there, as her own books:...................70
	Speaks heaven's language, and discourseth free
To every order, every hierarchy;
	Beholds her Maker, and in him doth see
What the beginnings of all beauties be,
	And all beatitudes that thence do flow:
Which they that have the crown are sure to know.
	Go now, her happy parents, and be sad,
If you not understand what child you had;
	If you dare grudge at heaven, and repent
To have paid again a blessing was but lent.................80
	And trusted so, as it deposited lay
At pleasure to be called for, every day;
	If you can envy your own daughter's bliss
And wish her state less happy than it is;
	If you can cast about your either eye,
And see all dead here, or about to die;
	The stars, that are the jewels of the night,
And day, deceasing with the prince of light,
	The sun; great kings and mightiest kingdoms fall;
Whole nations, nay mankind, the world, with all................90
	That ever had beginning there, to have end!
With what injustice should one soul pretend
	To escape this common known necessity;
When we were all born, we began to die;
	And, but for that contention and brave strife
The Christian hath to enjoy the future life,
	He were the wretched'st of the race of men:
But as he soars at that, he bruiseth then
	The serpent's head; gets above death and sin,
And, sure of heaven, rides triumphing in...................100

*Lady Jane Paulet, daughter of Thomas, Viscount Savage of Rock Savage in Cheshire, born 1607, died "big with child" on 15 April 1631; in 1622 she had married John Paulet, 5th Marquis of Winchester, a close friend of King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria.


c. Jonson's Love Elegies:

An Elegy ("By those bright eyes")

By those bright eyes, at whose immortal fires
	Love lights his torches to inflame desires;
By that fair stand, your forehead, whence he bends
	His double bow, and round his arrows sends;
By that tall grove, your hair, whose globy rings
	He flying curls and crispeth with his wings;
By those pure baths your either cheek discloses,
	Where he doth steep himself in milk and roses;
And lastly by your lips, the bank of kisses,
	Where men at once may plant and gather blisse.....10
Tell me, my loved friend, do you love, or no,
	So well as I may tell in verse, 'tis so?
You blush, but do not; friends are either none,
	Though they may number bodies, or but one.
I'll therefore ask no more, but bid you love;
	And so, that either may example prove
Unto the other, and live patterns how
	Others in time may love, as we do now.
Slip no occasion; as time stands not still,
	I know no beauty, nor no youth that will...........20
To use the present, then, is not abuse,
	You have a husband is the just excuse
Of all that can be done him; such a one
	As would make shift to make himself, alone,
That which we can; who both iii you, his wife,
	His issue, and all circumstance of life,
As in his place, because he would not vary,
	Is constant to be extraordinary.


An Elegy ("Let me be what I am")


Let me be what I am: as Virgil cold,
	As Horace fat, or as Anacreon old;
No poet's verses yet did ever move,
	Whose readers did not think he was in love.
Who shall forbid me then in rhythm to be
	As light and active as the youngest he
That from the muses' fountains doth endorse
	His lines, and hourly sits the poet's horse?
Put on my ivy garland; let me see
	Who frowns, who jealous is, who taxeth me........10
Fathers and husbands, I do claim a right
	In all that is called lovely: take my sight
Sooner than my affection from the fair.
	No face, no hand, proportion, line, or air
Of beauty, but the muse hath interest in;
	There is not worn that lace, purl, knot, or pin,
But is the poet's matter; and he must,
	When he is furious, love, although not lust.
But then consent, your daughters and your wives,
	If they be fair and worth it, have their lives......20
Made longer by our praises. Or, if not,
	Wish you had foul ones and deformed got,
Cursed in their cradles, or there changed by elves,
	So to be sure you do enjoy yourselves.
Yet keep those up in sackcloth too, or leather,
	For silk will draw some sneaking songster thither.
It is a rhyming age, and verses swarm
	At every stall; the city cap's a charm.
But I who live, and have lived, twenty year
	Where I may handle silk as free and near .......30
As any mercer, or the whale-bone man
	That quilts those bodies, I have leave to span;
Have eaten with the beauties and the wits
	And braveries of court, and felt their fits
Of love and hate, and came so nigh to know
	Whether their faces were their own or no;
It is not likely I should now look down
	Upon a velvet petticoat or a gown,
Whose like I have known the tailor's wife put on
	To do her husband's rites in, ere 'twere gone......40
Home to the customer; his lechery
	Being, the best clothes still to preoccupy.
Put a coach-mare in tissue, must I horse
	Her presently? or leap thy wife of force,
When by thy sordid bounty she hath on
	A gown of that was the caparison?
So I might dote upon thy chairs and stools
	That are like clothed: must I be of those fools
Of race accounted, that no passion have
	But when thy wife, as thou conceiv'st, is brave?...50
Then ope thy wardrobe, think me that poor groom
	That from the footman, when he was become
An officer there, did make most solemn love
	To every petticoat he brushed, and glove
He did lay up, and would adore the shoe
	Or slipper was left off, and kiss it too;
Court every hanging gown, and after that
	Lift up some one and do I'll tell not what.
Thou didst tell me, and wert o'erjoyed to peep
	In at a hole, and see these actions creep .......60
From the poor wretch, which, though he played in prose,
	He would have done in verse with any of those
Wrung on the withers by Lord Love's despite,
	Had he'd the faculty to read and write!
Such songsters there are store of: witness he
	That chanced the lace laid on a smock to see
And straightway spent a sonnet; with that other
	That (in pure madrigal) unto his mother
Commended the French hood and scarlet gown
	The Lady Mayoress passed in through the town ....70
Unto the Spittle sermon.* Oh, what strange
	Variety of silks were on the Exchange,
Or in Moorfields* this other night! sings one;
	Another answers, 'las, those silks are none,
In smiling l'envoy, as he would deride
	Any comparison had with his Cheapside.*
And vouches both the pageant and the day,
	When not the shops but windows do display
The stuffs, the velvets, plushes, fringes, lace,
	And all the original riots of the place. ........80
Let the poor fools enjoy their follies, love
	A goat in velvet, or some block could move
Under that cover, an old midwife's hat,
	Or a close-stool so cased, or any fat
Bawd in a velvet scabbard! I envy
	None of their pleasures, nor will ask thee why
Thou art jealous of thy wife's or daughter's case:
	More than of either's manners, wit, or face.

*"Spittle Sermon"= sermon preached in Easter week near St. Mary Spittle [hospital] of Bishopsgate Without [in St Botolph Without Bishopsgate, a London parish outside of London Wall to the north east]; Moorfields = flat marshy ground just north of London; Cheapside = at the east end there were mercers' shops [clothing stores].


d. Jonson's Epigrams:

# 7: On the New Hot-house

Where lately harboured many a famous whore,
	A purging bill now fixed upon the door
Tells you it is a hot-house; so it ma',
	And still be a whore-house: they're synonima.*




# 8: 0n a Robbery

Ridway robbed Duncote of three hundred pound;
	Ridway was ta'en, arraigned, condemned to die;
But for this money was a courtier found,
	Begged Ridway's pardon. Duncote now doth cry,
Robbed both of money and the law's relief:
	The courtier is become the greater thief.


# 9: To All to Whom I Write

May none whose scattered names honour my book
	For strict degrees of rank or title look;
'Tis 'gainst the manners of an epigram;
	And I a poet here, no herald am.


# 10: To My Lord Ignorant

Thou call'st me poet, as a term of shame;
But I have my revenge made in thy name.



# 11: On Something that Walks Somewhere

At court I met it, in clothes brave enough
	To be a courtier, and looks grave enough
To seem a statesman. As I near it came,
	It made me a great face; I asked the name,
A lord, it cried, buried in flesh and blood,
	And such from whom let no man hope least good,
For I will dare none; and as little ill,
	For I will dare none. Good Lord, walk dead still.


# 12: On Lieutenant Shift

Shift, here in town not meanest among squires
	That haunt Pickt-hatch, Marsh-Lambeth, and Whitefriars,
Keeps himself, with half a man, and defrays
	The charge of that state with this charm: God pays.
By that one spell he lives, eats, drinks, arrays
	Himself; his whole revenue is, God pays.
The quarter day is come; the hostess says
	She must have money; he returns, God pays.
The tailor brings a suit home; he it 'ssays
	Looks o'er the bill, likes it, and says, God pays.
He steals to ordinaries; there he plays
	At dice his borrowed money; which God pays.
Then takes up fresh commodity for days.
	Signs to new bond, forfeits, and cries. God pays.
That lost, he keeps his chamber, reads essays,
	Takes physic, tears the papers; still God pays.
Or else by water goes, and so to plays,
	Calls for his stool, adorns the stage; God pays.
To every cause he meets, this voice he brays:
	His only answer is to all, God pays.
Not his poor cockatrice but he betrays
	Thus; and for his lechery scores: God pays.
But see! the old bawd hath served him in his trim,
	Lent him a pocky whore.  She bath paid him.


# 13: To Doctor Empiric

When men a dangerous disease did 'scape
	Of old, they gave a cock to Aesculape.
Let me give two, that doubly am got free
	From my disease's danger, and from thee.


# 15: On Court- Worm

All men are worms; but this no man. In silk
	'Twas brought to court first wrapped, and white as milk;
Where afterwards it grew a butterfly,
	Which was a caterpillar. So 'twill die.


# 40: On Margaret Radcliffe*


M arble, weep, for thou dost cover
A dead beauty underneath thee,
R ich as nature could bequeath thee
G rant, then, no rude hand remove her.
A II the gazers on the skies
R ead not in fair heavens story
E xpresser truth or truer glory
T han they might in her bright eyes
R are as wonder was her wit,
A nd like nectar ever flowing;
T il time, strong by her bestowing,
C onquered hath both life and it.
L ife, whose grief was out of fashion
I n these times: few so have rued
F ate, in a brother. To conclude,
F or wit, feature, and true passion,
E arth, thou last nor such another.

(Margaret Ratcliffe, one of Queen Elizabeth'a maids of honor, died of grief on 10 November 1599 in the wake of the deaths of four of her brothers, two in military action in Ireland in 1598-9 and two by sickness in 1599 (they were also in the military, in Flanders).


# 41: On Gypsy

Gypsy, new bawd, is turned physician,
	And gets more gold than all the College can.
Such her quaint practice is, so it allures.
	For what she gave, a whore, a bawd, she cures.


# 42: On Giles and Joan

Who says that Giles and Joan at discord be?
	The observing neighbours no such mood can see.
Indeed, poor Giles repents he married ever:
	But that his Joan doth too. And Giles would never,
By his free will, be in Joan's company;
	No more would Joan he should. Giles riseth early
And having got him out of doors is glad-
	The like is Joan-but turning home, is sad;
And so is Joan.  Oft-times, when Giles doth find
	Harsh sights at home, Giles wisheth he were blind;
All this doth Joan. Or that his long-yarned life
	Were quite out-spun; the like wish hath his wife.
The children that he keeps, Giles swears are none
	Of his begetting; and so swears his Joan;
In all affections she concurreth still
	If now, with man and wife, to will and nill
The selfósame things a note of concord be,
	I know no couple better can agree!


# 118: On Gut


Gut eats all day, and lechers all he night,
	So all his meat he tasteth over, twice
And striving so to double his delight,
	He makes himself a thoroughfare of vice.
Thus in his belly can he change a sin:
	Lust it comes out, that gluttony went in.

Epigram #50: To Sir Cod


Leave, Cod, tobacco-like, burnt gums to take,
Or fumy clysters, thy moist lungs to bake:
Arsenic would thee fit for society make.


Epigram # 51: To King James

Upon the Happy False Rumour of His Death,

the Two-and-Twentieth Day of March,1607


That we thy loss might know, and thou our love,
	Great heaven did well to give ill fame free wing;
Which, though it did but panic terror prove,
	And far beneath least pause of such a king,
Yet give thy jealous subjects leave to doubt,
	Who this thy 'scape from rumour gratulate
No less than if from peril; and, devout,
	Do beg thy care unto thy after-state.
For we, that have our eyes still in our ears,
	Look not upon thy dangers, but our fears.


Epigram #58: To Groom Idiot

Idiot, last night I prayed thee but forbear
	To read my verses; now I must to hear:
For offering with thy smiles my wit to grace,
	Thy ignorance still laughs in the wrong place.
And so my sharpness thou no less disjoints
	Than thou didst late my sense, losing my points.
So have I seen at Christmas sports one lost,
	And, hoodwinked, for a man, embrace a post.


Epigram # 59: On Spies

Spies, you are lights in state, but of base stuff,
Who, when you've burnt yourselves down to the snuff,
Stink, and are thrown away. End fair enough.


Epigram # 61: To Fool or Knave

Thy praise or dispraise is to me alike;
One doth not stroke me, nor the other strike.


Epigram # 62: To Fine Lady Would-Be

Fine Madam Would-Be, wherefore should you fear,
	That love to make so well, a child to bear?
The world reputes you barren; but I know
	Your 'pothecary, and his drug says no.
Is it the pain affrights? That's soon forgot.
	Or your complexion's loss? You have a pot
That can restore that. Will it hurt your feature?
	To make amends, you're thought a wholesome creature.
What should the cause be? Oh, you live at court:
	And there's both loss of time and loss of sport
In a great belly. Write, then, on thy womb:
	Of the not born, yet buried, here's the tomb.


e. Jonson's Satire:

On the Famous Voyage


No more let Greece her bolder fables tell

Of Hercules or Theseus going to hell,

Orpheus, Ulysses; or the Latin muse

With tales of Troy's just knight our faiths abuse:

We have a Sheldon and a Heydon got,

Had power to act what they to feign had not.

All that they boast of Styx, of Acheron,

Cocytus, Phlegethon, our have proved in one:

The filth, stench, noise; save only what was there

Subtly distinguished, was confused here.......10

Their wherry had no sail, too; ours had none;

And in it two more horrid knaves than Charon.

Arses were heard to croak instead of frogs,

And for one Cerberus, the whole coast was dogs.

Furies there wanted not; each scold was ten;

And for the cries of ghosts, women and men

Laden with plague-sores and their sins were heard,

Lashed by their consciences; to die, afeard.

Then let the former age with this content her:

She brought the poets forth, but ours the adventer.


The Voyage Itself


I sing the brave adventure of two wights,

And pity 'tis I cannot call 'em knights:

One was; and he for brawn and brain right able

To have been styled of King Arthur's table.

The other was a squire of fair degree, .................... 25

But in the action greater man than he,

Who gave, to take at his return from hell,

His three for one. Now, lordings, listen well.

It was the day, what time the powerful moon

Makes the poor Bankside creature wet it' shoon ............ 30

In it' own hall, when these (in worthy scorn

Of those that put out moneys on return

From Venice, Paris, or some inland passage

Of six times to and fro without embassage,

Or him that backward went to Berwick, or which ......... 35

Did dance the famous morris unto Norwich)

At Bread Street's Mermaid having dined, and merry,

Proposed to go to Holborn in a wherry:

A harder task than either his to Bristo',

Or his to Antwerp. Therefore, once more, list ho! ......... 40

A dock there is that called is Avernus,

Of some, Bridewell, and may in time concern us

All that are readers; but methinks 'tis odd

That all this while I have forgot some god

Or goddess to invoke, to stuff my verse, ............... 45

And with both bombard-style and phrase rehearse

The many perils of this port, and how

Sans help of sibyl or a golden bough

Or magic sacrifice, they passed along.

Alcides, be thou succouring to my song! ................. 50

Thou hast seen hell, some say, and know'st all nooks there,

Canst tell me best how every fury looks there,

And art a god, if fame thee not abuses,

Always at hand to aid the merry muses.

Great Club-fist, though thy back and bones be sore ............ 55

Still, with thy former labours, yet once more

Act a brave work, call it thy last adventry;

But hold my torch while I describe the entry

To this dire passage. Say thou stop thy nose:

'Tis but light pains: indeed this dock's no rose. ..................... 60

In the first jaws appeared that ugly monster

Ycleped Mud, which when their oars did once stir,

Belched forth an air as hot as at the muster

Of all your night-tubs, when the carts do cluster,

Who shall discharge first his merd-urinous load: .................. 65

Thorough her womb they make their famous road

Between two walls, where on one side, to scar men

Were seen your ugly centaurs ye call car-men,

Gorgonian scolds and harpies; on the other

Hung stench, diseases, and old filth, their mother, ............. 70

With famine, wants and sorrows many a dozen,

The least of which was to the plague a cousin.

But they unfrighted pass, though many a privy

Spake to 'em louder than the ox in Livy,

And many a sink poured out her rage anenst 'em; .............. 75

But still their valour and their virtue fenced 'em,

And on they went, like Castor brave and Pollux,

Ploughing the main. When see (the worst of all lucks)

They met the second prodigy, would fear a

Man that had never heard of a Chimaera. .................. 80

One said it was bold Briareus, or the beadle

(Who bath the hundred hands when he doth meddle);

The other thought it Hydra, or the rock

Made of the trull that cut her father's lock; -

But coming near, they found it but a lighter, .............85

So huge, it seemed, they could by no means quite her.

Back, cried their brace of Charons; they cried, No,

No going back! On still, you rogues, and row.

How bight the place? A voice was heard: Cocytus.

Row close then, slaves! Alas, they will beshite us. ......... 90

No matter, stinkards, row! What croaking sound

Is this we hear? of frogs? No, guts wind-bound,

Over your heads; well, row. At this a loud

Crack did report itself, as if a cloud

Had burst with storm, and down fell ab excelsis ........95

Poor Mercury, crying out on Paracelsus

And all his followers, that had so abused him,

And in so shitten sort so long had used him;

For (where he was the god of eloquence,

And subtlety of metals) they dispense .............100

His spirits now in pills and eke in potions,

Suppositories, cataplasms and lotions.

But many moons there shall not wane, quoth he,

(In the, meantime, let 'em imprison me)

But I will speak-and know I shall be heard- ...........105

Touching this cause, where they will be afeard

To answer me. And sure, it was the intent

Of the grave fart, late let in parliament,

Had it been seconded, and not in fume

Vanished away: as you must all presume ............. 110

Their Mercury did now. By this, the stem

Of the hulk touched and, as by Polypheme

The sly Ulysses stole in a sheepskin,

The well-greased wherry now had got between,

And bade her farewell sough unto the lurden....... 115

Never did bottom more betray her burden:

The meat-boat of Bears' College, Paris Garden,

Stunk not so ill; nor, when she kissed, Kate Arden.

Yet one day in the year for sweet 'tis voiced,

And that is when it is the Lord Mayor's foist. .......120

By this time had they reached the Stygian pool

By which the masters swear when, on the stool

Of worship, they their nodding chins do hit

Against their breasts. Here several ghosts did flit

About the shore, of farts but late departed, ........... 125

White, black, blue, green, and in more forms out-started

Than all those atomi ridiculous

Whereof old Democrite and Hill Nicholas,

One said, the other swore, the world consists.

These be the cause of those thick frequent mists ...........130

Arising in that place, through which who goes

Must try the unused valour of a nose:

And that ours did. For yet no flare was tainted,

Nor thumb nor finger to the stop acquainted,

But open and unarmed encountered all. .........135

Whether it languishing stuck upon the wall

Or were precipitated down the jakes,

And after sworn abroad in ample flakes,

Or that it lay heaped like an usurer's mass,

All was to them the same: they were to pass, ........140

And so they did, from Styx to Acheron,

The ever-boiling flood; whose banks upon

Your Fleet Lane furies and hot cooks do dwell,

That with still-scalding steams make the place hell.

The sinks ran grease, and hair of measled hogs, ........145

The heads, boughs, entrails, and the hides of dogs:

For, to say truth, what scullion is so nasty

To put the skins and offal in a pasty?

Cats there lay divers had been flayed and roasted

And, after mouldy grown, again were toasted; ........150

Then selling not, a dish was ta'en to mince 'em,

But still, it seemed, the rankness did convince 'em

For here they were thrown in wi' the melted pewter,

Yet drowned they not. They had five lives in future.

But 'mongst these Tiberts, who d'you think there was? 155

Old Banks the juggler, our Pythagoras,

Grave tutor to the learned horse: both which

Being, beyond sea, burned for one witch,

Their spirits transmigrated to a cat;

And now, above the pool, a face right fat, ............160

With great grey eyes, are lifted up, and mewed;

Thrice did it spit, thrice dived. At last it viewed

Our brave heroes with a milder glare,

And in a piteous tune began: How dare

Your dainty nostrils (in so hot a season, .............165

When every clerk eats artichokes and peason,

Laxative lettuce, and such windy meat)

'Tempt such a passage? When each privy's seat

Is filled with buttock, and the walls do sweat

Urine and plasters? When the noise doth beat ........170

Upon your ears of discords so unsweet,

And outcries of the damned in the Fleet?

Cannot the plague-bill keep you back? nor bells

Of loud Sepulchre's, with their hourly knells,

But you will visit grisly Pluto's hall? .....................175

Behold where Cerberus, reared on the wall

Of Holborn (three sergeants' heads) looks o'er,

And stays but till you come unto the door!

Tempt not his fury; Pluto is away,

And Madam Caesar, great Proserpina,...................180

Is now from home. You lose your labours quite,

Were you Jove's sons, or had Alcides' might.

They cried out, Puss! He told them he was Banks,

That had so often showed 'em merry pranks.

They laughed at his laugh-worthy fate; and passed.............185

The triple head without a sop. At last,

Calling for Rhadamanthus, that dwelt by,

A soap-boiler, and Aeacus him nigh,

Who kept an ale-house, with my little Minos,

An ancient purblind fletcher with a high nose, ...................190

They took 'em all to witness of their action,

And so went bravely back, without protraction.

In memory of which most liquid deed,

The city since bath raised a pyramid.

And I could wish for their eternized sakes, ...................195

My muse had ploughed with his that sung A-jax.


4 Troy's just knight: Aeneas.

5 Sheldon: usually identified as Sir Ralph Sheldon of Epig. 119; Heydon: probably Sir Christopher Heydon, knighted 1596, d. 1623, a writer on astrology.

7-8 Styx . . . Achcron . . . Cocytus, Phlegethon: four of the five rivers of Hades.

8 in one: the Fleet Ditch, a stream rising in the Highgate and Hampstead hills, and flowing into the Thames at Blackfriars. Once easily navigable as far as Holborn Bridge, it had become a common sewer by the sixteenth century, and was now choked with refuse.

11. wherry: light rowing boat.

12 Charon: god of hell, who ferried the souls of the dead across the rivers Styx and Achcron.

13 frogs: who form a croaking chorus in Aristophancs' comedy of that name, in which Charon ferries Dionysus to Hades.

14 Cerberus: watchdog of Hades; he had three (or, according to some, fifty) heads.

20 adventer~ adventure.

28 three for one: a form of wagering on one's chances of successful completion of travel; a wagerer stood to treble, or forfeit, his stake.

29 powerful moon: i.e. a spring tide.

34 without enzbassage: without being ambassadors.

35 backward went to Berwick: in 1589 Sir Robert Carey won £2,000 by walking from London to Berwick in 12 days. Backward' may be simply a gibe, or may refer to an actual attempt to outdo this feat.

36 the famous morris: danced by the actor William Kemp in 1599.

39-40 Two of several daring small boat enterprises of th time. The wherry journey to Bristol was undertaken by Richard Ferris and two companions in 1590.

41 Avernus: sulphurous lake in Campania, thought to be the entrance to hell (see Aeneid, vi. 126 if.).

42 Briden'ell: Bridewell dock, at the north end of what is now Blackfriars Bridge, was the outlet of the Fleet Ditch; Bridewell prison was situated here.

46 bombard-style: bombast.

48 sib)'l or a golden bough: which assisted Aeneas in the underworld (Aeneid, vi),

50 Alcides: Hercules, whose twelfth labour was to bring Cerberus from hell.

55 Club-fist: Hercules inadvertently killed a man in Calydon with a blow of his fist. 57 adventty: adventure (a nonce-formation).

6o dock's no rose: punning on the name of the dock plant; a proverbial saying (Oaford Dictionary of English Proverbs: cf. Tilley, D42o).

65~ merd-urinous: of dung and urine.

67 scar: scare.

68 car-men: carriers, carters.

74 ox in Livy: see Livy, I. VU. 4-7, XXXV. xx. 4-5.

75 anenst: bcside.

77 Castor brave And Pollux: who sailed with Jason in search of thc golden fleece, and later cleared the Hcllespant and neighbouring seas of pirates.

8o Chimaera: a monster which was lion in its Ioreparts, dragon aft, and goat amidships.

81 Briareus: a giant with too hands and ~o heads; encountered by Aeneas, Aeneid, vi. 287.

83 Hydra: a monster with tOO (or 50, or 9) heads; when one was cut off, two more would grow in its place.

84 the tm/I: Scylla, daughter of Typhon, was changed by the jealous Circe into a monster with barking nether parts, 12 feet, and 6 heads; dismayed, she threw herself into the sea, and was changed again, into rocks. Jonson, like several classical authors, confuses her with the Scylia who cut off the hair of her father, Nisus, king of Megara.

86 quite: avoid.

89 Cocytus: the unsavoury river 'of lamentation' in the classical underworld.

95 ab cxcelsis: from on high.

96 Parcelsus: Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenhcim (?1490-1 541), physician and alchemist, laid stress on the necessary balance of mercury, sulphur, and salt in the human constitution; he and his followers essayed 'strange cures with mineral physic' (Alch. 11. iii. 231).

108 the grave fart: 'The peculiar manner in which Henry Ludlow said "no,, to a message brought by the Serjeant from the Lords' in 1607 forms the subject of a poem written before t6to and published in Musarum Deliciae in 1656. (Cf. AIch. II. ii. 63.)

112 Polypheme: Odyssey, ix. 431-4. tx~ sough: deep sigh. tts lurden: sluggard, i.e. the slow-moving boat. ti6 bottom: the lower hull of a boat; a pun.

117 Butchers' offal was taken by boat to Paris Garden on the Bankside, immediately opposite the outlet of Fleet Ditch; bull- and bear-baiting were held here. For 'Bear's College' cf. Pdet. Apol. Dial. 45, Gyp. Met. 1358 (Songs, 25. 30).

118 Kate Arden: whose charms are also remembered in Und. 43. 148-9.

120 foist: (i) barge; (ii) fart.

128 Democrite: Democritus, born c. 460 u.c., developed the theory of the atomic nature of the universe. xa8 Hill Nicholas: Nicholas Hill (?1570-x6to) fellow of St. John's, Oxford, published in t60t his Philosophia,:Epicurea Democritiana, Theophrastica, proposita .cimp/icite,, non edocta.

133 narr nostril.

143 Fleet Lane: now Farringdon Street; then chiefly occupied by taverns and cookshops.

144 hell: the association of cooks with hell is traditional.

145 measled: spotty, infected.

152 Convince: convict, give away.

155 Taberts: cats; from the name of the cat in Reynard the Fox (trs. Caxton, 1481).

156 Banks: ft. 1588-1637, a showman, owner of the famous horse Morocco (or Marocco). The story of their both being burned by the Pope in Rome is probably untrue (see DNB).

162 Thrice . . . thrice: an expected number on epic (and mock-epic) occasions: cf. Virgil, Aeneid, ii. 792-4, VI. 700-2; Pope, The Rape of the Lock, iii. 137-8; The Dunciad (A), i. 203-4; etc.

166 peason: peas.

172 the damned in the Fleet: the prisoners in Fleet prison. New prisoners were taken by boat along Fleet Ditch, and entered the prison through a water-gate.

174 Sepulchre's: the bells of St. Sepulchre's tolled for criminals proceeding to execution, and also, with great frequency, for the dead in time of plague.

175 grisly)' Pluto's hall: probably Fleet prison. Pluto is king of the classical underworld.

176-7 The reference is obscure; but the 'sergeants' are sergeants-at-law in the near-by Inns of Court on Holborn Hill.

180 Madam Caesar: a brothel-keeper.

186 a sop: Aeneas pacified Cerberus with a drugged honey-cake, Aeneid, vi. 417-25. 187-9 Rhadamanthus ... Aeacus . . . ~Minos: the three judges of the classical underworld. Cf. Poet. III. i. 145 f.

190 fletcher: arrow-maker.

190 high: long.

193-4 Possibly referring to Sir Hugh Myddelton's New River scheme, begun in 1609 and ceremoniously opened in 1613; the 'pyramid' may be the water-house and tower at New River Head, Clerkenwell

196 A-jax: Sir John Harington's treatise on the .jakes (1596), A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, Called the Metamorphosis of Ajax. But the reference is also, perhaps, to Homer, [there may bea] further gibe at Harington's longwindedness as an epigrammatist.

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3. Love Elegy: "An Elegy" ["By those bright eyes]"


"An Elegy" {Let me be what I am]

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4. Epigrams:


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