BEN JONSON:  1572 – 1637

Colorful history:

·       Actor, soldier, poet, playwright (Volpone, The Alchemist ), scholar, critic, translator of classics, poet laureate (1616)

·       Friend and rival of both Shakespeare and John Donne

·       Recognized as influential judge of literature

·       Rewarded by King James I for his writings – often wrote masques (elaborate entertainments) for the royal court

Sons/Tribe of Ben:

·       Based on Tribe of Benjamin, one of the 12 tribes of Israel meaning “the chosen people”

·       Provided the nucleus of the entire Cavalier style

·       Members loyal to Jonson and patterned poetry after him

Five Categories of poetry:

·       Ceremony poems: festive & represent the good life

·       Elegies /Epitaphs: brief, full, simple, direct, impersonal

·       Compliments/Tributes: friendship & admiration; often prefixed in friends’ books; summarize a man’s character or achievement

·       Songs: appeared in plays and masques but also alone; melodic often with musical accompaniment

·       Epigrams:  Lewd, nasty, funny; vital Renaissance genre

Characteristics of poetic style:

·       Clear imagery – easy to understand but uses archaic words

·       Based upon Roman models

·       Emphasis on graceful, balanced expression in verse

On My First Son

·       Laments the death of his son, Benjamin, who died of the plague at 7 years of age on his own birthday.

·       Jonson was away when his son died and before he heard the sad news had a vision of his son with a bloody cross on his forehead.

·       He accuses himself of loving his son too much

·       Ponders why he should feel such grief when, in fact, the boy has escaped life’s miseries

·       Concludes that of all his poems (creations), this son was the best.

·       Vows that whatever he may love in the future, he will never again allow it to please him too much.

FOCUSING QUESTION:  Whereas Donne argues that death doesn’t matter because it leads to eternal life, Jonson asserts a different perspective.  What is it?


Song: To Celia

·       Based on an ode by the Roman poet Catullus and sung in Jonson’s play, Volpone.

·       Far simpler than many of his other poems, but became most popular when it was set to music in 18th century.

FOCUSING QUESTION:  What do the images of love in the poem have in common?  What does this suggest about love?