Ben Jonson

(11 June 1572 – 6 August 1637 / London / England)

Epode - Poem by Ben Jonson

Not to know vice at all, and keep true state,
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,
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
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
Close, the close cause 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.
For either our affections do rebel,
Or else the sentinel,
That should ring 'larum to the heart, doth sleep:
Or some great thought doth keep
Back the intelligence, and falsely swears
They're base and idle fears
Whereof the loyal conscience so complains.
Thus, by these subtle trains,
Do several passions invade the mind,
And strike our reason blind:
Of which usurping rank, some have thought love
The first: as prone to move
Most frequent tumults, horrors, and unrests,
In our inflamed breasts:
But this doth from the cloud of error grow,
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 'tis born,
Rough, swelling, like a storm;
With whom who sails, rides on the surge of fear,
And boils as if he were
In a continual tempest. Now, true love
No such effects doth prove;
That is an essence far more gentle, fine,
Pure, perfect, nay, divine;
It is a golden chain let down from heaven,
Whose links are bright and even;
That falls like sleep on lovers, and combines
The soft and sweetest minds
In equal knots: this bears no brands, nor darts,
To murder different hearts,
But, in a calm and god-like unity,
Preserves community.
O, who is he that, in this peace, enjoys
Th' elixir of all joys?
A form more fresh than are the Eden bowers,
And lasting as her flowers;
Richer than Time and, as Times's virtue, rare;
Sober as saddest care;
A fixed thought, an eye untaught to glance;
Who, blest with such high chance,
Would, at suggestion of a steep desire,
Cast himself from the spire
Of all his happiness? But soft: I hear
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,
Because they move, the continent doth so:
No, Vice, we let thee know
Though thy wild thoughts with sparrows' wings do fly,
Turtles can chastely die;
And yet (in this t' express ourselves more clear)
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,
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,
Makes a most blessed 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.
But we propose a person like our Dove,
Graced with a Phoenix' love;
A beauty of that clear and sparkling light,
Would make a day of night,
And turn the blackest sorrows to bright joys:
Whose odorous 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
All her best symmetry in that one feature!
O, so divine a creature
Who could be false to? chiefly, when he knows
How only she bestows
The wealthy treasure of her love on him;
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?
Much more a noble, and right generous mind,
To virtuous moods inclined,
That knows the weight of guilt: he will refrain
From thoughts of such a strain,
And to his sense object this sentence ever,
'Man may securely sin, but safely never.'


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Poem Submitted: Friday, April 9, 2010



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