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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 1880–1918.rnVol. II. The Seventeenth Century: Ben Jonson to Dryden

Ben Jonson (1572–1637)

Ode to Himself (after the failure of The New Inn)

  • [Written after the failure of the comedy The New Inn, ‘never acted, but most negligently played by some, the king’s servants; and more squeamishly beheld and censured by others, the king’s subjects,’ January 19, 1629.]

  • COME, leave the loathèd stage,

    And the more loathsome age;

    Where pride and impudence, in faction knit,

    Usurp the chair of wit!

    Indicting and arraigning every day

    Something they call a play.

    Let their fastidious, vain

    Commission of the brain

    Run on and rage, sweat, censure, and condemn;

    They were not made for thee, less thou for them.

    Say that thou pour’st them wheat,

    And they will acorns eat;

    ’Twere simple fury still thyself to waste

    On such as have no taste!

    To offer them a surfeit of pure bread

    Whose appetites are dead!

    No, give them grains their fill,

    Husks, draff to drink or swill:

    If they love lees, and leave the lusty wine,

    Envy them not, their palate’s with the swine.

    No doubt some mouldy tale,

    Like Pericles, and stale

    As the shrieve’s crusts, and nasty as his fish—

    Scraps out of every dish

    Thrown forth, and raked into the common tub,

    May keep up the Play-club:

    There, sweepings do as well

    As the best-ordered meal;

    For who the relish of these guests will fit,

    Needs set them but the alms-basket of wit.

    And much good do ’t you then:

    Brave plush-and-velvet-men

    Can feed on orts; and, safe in your stage-clothes,

    Dare quit, upon your oaths,

    The stagers and the stage-wrights too, your peers,

    Of larding your large ears

    With their foul comic socks,

    Wrought upon twenty blocks;

    Which if they are torn, and turned, and patched enough,

    The gamesters share your gilt, and you their stuff.

    Leave things so prostitute,

    And take the Alcaic lute;

    Or thine own Horace, or Anacreon’s lyre;

    Warm thee by Pindar’s fire:

    And though thy nerves be shrunk, and blood be cold,

    Ere years have made thee old,

    Strike that disdainful heat

    Throughout, to their defeat,

    As curious fools, and envious of thy strain,

    May, blushing, swear no palsy ’s in thy brain.

    But when they hear thee sing

    The glories of thy king,

    His zeal to God, and his just awe o’er men:

    They may, blood-shaken then,

    Feel such a flesh-quake to possess their powers,

    As they shall cry: ‘Like ours

    In sound of peace or wars,

    No harp e’er hit the stars,

    In tuning forth the acts of his sweet reign,

    And raising Charles his chariot ’bove his Wain.