BEN JONSON: 1572 – 1637
· 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?