Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Elizabethan Verse
William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Elizabethan Verse.  1907.
By Ben Jonson (1572–1637)
NOT 1 to know vice at all, and keep true state, 2
      Is virtue, and not fate:
Next to that virtue is to know vice well,
      And her black spite expel.
Which to effect (since no breast is so sure,        5
      Or safe, but she’ll procure
Some way of entrance) we must plant a guard
      Of thoughts to watch and ward
At th’ eye and ear, the ports unto the mind,
      That no strange or unkind        10
Object arrive there, but the heart, our spy,
      Give knowledge instantly
To wakeful reason, our affections’ king:
      Who, in th’ examining,
Will quickly taste the treason, and commit        15
      Close, the close cause 3 of it.
’Tis the securest policy we have,
      To make our sense our slave.
But this true course is not embraced by many:
      By many? scarce by any.        20
For either our affections do rebel,
      Or else the sentinel,
That should ring larum 4 to the heart, doth sleep:
      Or some great thought doth keep
Back the intelligence, and falsely swears        25
      They’re base and idle fears
Whereof the loyal conscience so complains.
      Thus, by these subtle trains,
Do several passiòns 5 invade the mind,
      And strike our reason blind:        30
Of which usurping rank, some have thought love
      The first, as prone to move
Most frequent tumults, horrors, and unrests,
      In our inflamèd breasts:
But this doth from the cloud of error grow,        35
      Which thus we over-blow.
The thing they here call Love is blind Desire,
      Armed with bow, shafts, and fire;
Inconstant, like the sea, of whence ’t is born,
      Rough, swelling, like a storm;        40
With whom who sails, rides 6 on the surge of fear,
      And boils as if he were
In a continual tempest. Now, true Love
      No such effects doth prove; 7
That is an essence far more gentle, fine,        45
      Pure, perfect, nay, divine;
It is a golden chain 8 let down from heaven,
      Whose links are bright and even,
That falls like sleep on lovers, and combines
      The soft and sweetest minds        50
In equal knots: this bears no brands nor darts,
      To murther different hearts,
But in a calm and godlike unity
      Preserves community.
O, who is he that in this peace, enjoys        55
      Th’ elixir of all joys?
A form more fresh than are the Eden bowers,
      And lasting as her flowers:
Richer than Time, and as Time’s virtue rare:
      Sober, as saddest care;        60
A fixèd thought, an eye untaught to glance:
      Who, blest with such high chance,
Would, at suggestion of a steep desire, 9
      Cast himself from the spire
Of all his happiness? But, soft, I hear        65
      Some vicious fool draw near,
That cries we dream, and swears there’s no such thing
      As this chaste love we sing.
Peace, Luxury, thou art like one of those
      Who, being at sea, suppose,        70
Because they move, the continent doth so.
      No, Vice, we let thee know,
Though thy wild thoughts with sparrows’ wings 10 do fly,
      Turtles can chastely die.
And yet (in this t’ express ourselves more clear)        75
      We do not number here
Such spirits as are only continent
      Because lust’s means are spent;
Or those who doubt the common mouth of fame,
      And for their place and name        80
Cannot so safely sin. Their chastity
      Is mere necessity.
Nor mean we those whom vows and conscience
      Have filled with abstinence:
Though we acknowledge, who can so abstain        85
      Makes a most blessèd gain;
He that for love of goodness hateth ill
      Is more crown-worthy still
Than he, which for sin’s penalty forbears:
      His heart sins, though he fears.        90
But we propose a person like our Dove,
      Grac’d with a Phœnix’ love;
A beauty of that clear and sparkling light,
      Would make a day of night,
And turn the blackest sorrows to bright joys:        95
      Whose od’rous breath destroys
All taste of bitterness, and makes the air
      As sweet as she is fair.
A body so harmoniously composed,
      As if nature disclosed        100
All her best symmetry in that one feature!
      O, so divine a creature,
Who could be false to? chiefly when he knows
      How only 11 she bestows
The wealthy treasure of her love on him;        105
      Making his fortunes swim
In the full flood of her admired perfection?
      What savage, brute affection
Would not be fearful to offend a dame
      Of this excelling frame?        110
Much more a noble and right generous mind
      To virtuous moods inclined,
That knows the weight of guilt: 12 he will refrain
      From thoughts of such a strain;
And to his sense object this sentence ever,        115
‘Man may securely sin, but safely never.’
Note 1. This poem originally appeared in Love’s Martyr or Rosalin’s Complaint. “Allegorically shadowing the truth of Love, in the constant Fate of the Phœnix and Turtle. A poem … now first translated out of the venerable Italian Torquato Cæliano by Robert Chester. To these are added some new compositions of several modern writers, whose names are subscribed to their several Works; upon the first subject, viz.: The Phœnix and Turtle.” The poem was reprinted in The Forest, folio 1616. Mr. Swinburne says of this poem: “In ‘The Admirable Epode,’ as Gifford calls it,… though there is remarkable energy of expression, the irregularity and inequality of style are at least as conspicuous as the occasional vigour and the casual felicity of phrase. But if all were as good as the best passages, this early poem of Jonson’s would undoubtedly be very good indeed. Take for instance the description or definition of true love: ‘That is an essence far more gentle, fine,’ etc. [Lines 45–50.] Again: ‘O, who is he that in this peace enjoys,’ etc. [Lines 55–65.] And few of Jonson’s many moral or gnomic passages are finer than the following: ‘He that for love of goodness hateth ill,’ etc. [Lines 87–90.] This metre, though very liable to the danger of monotony, is to my ear very pleasant.” (A Study of Ben Jonson, 1889.) [back]
Note 2. State: status, equilibrium. [back]
Note 3. Close cause: secret cause. [back]
Note 4. Larum: alarm. [back]
Note 5. Passions: the final ion is frequently made dissyllabic in Elizabethan verse. Cf. No. 630, line 23. [back]
Note 6. With whom, who rides: whom refers to Blind Desire (line 37), who = whoever. [back]
Note 7. Prove: experience. [back]
Note 8. A golden chain. Cf. these lines from Jonson’s Hymenaei, a Masque, 1606, referred by a marginal note to Iliad, viii., 19:
  Such was the golden chain let down from Heaven;
And not those links more even
Than these: so sweetly tempered, so combined
By union, and refined.
Note 9. Lines 63–65, At suggestion of a steep desire, etc. Professor Kittredge suggests that a steep desire is a precipitous desire, a desire into which a man casts himself headlong; suggestion implies temptation. The figure is evidently inspired by the temptation of Jesus from the pinnacle of the temple. [back]
Note 10. Sparrow’s wings: the sparrow was sacred to Venus. [back]
Note 11. Only: exclusively. [back]
Note 12. That knows the weight of guilt: Cf. Seneca:
  Quid poena præsens, consciæ mentis pavor;
Animusque culpa plenus, et semet timens?
Scelus aliquatutum nulla securum tulit.
(Hippolytus, i., 162 et seq.)    

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