Ben Jonson

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

Xi: Epode - Poem by Ben Jonson

Not to know vice at all, and keepe true state,
Is vertue, and not Fate:
Next, to that vertue, is to know vice well,
And her black spight expell.
Which to effect (since no brest is so sure,
Or safe, but shee'll procure
Some way of entrance) we must plant a guard
Of thoughts to watch, and ward
At th'eye and eare (the ports unto the minde)
That no strange, or unkinde
Object arrive there, but the heart (our spie)
Give knowledge instantly,
To wakefull Reason, our affections king:
Who (in th'examining)
Will quickly taste the reason, and commit
Close, the close cause of it.
'Tis the securest policie we have,
To make our sense our slave.
But this true course is not embrac'd by many:
By many? scarce by any.
For either our affections doe rebell,
Or else the sentinell
(That should ring larum to the heart) doth sleepe,
Or some great thought doth keepe
Back the intelligence, and falsely sweares,
Th'are base, and idle feares
Whereof the loyall conscience so complaines.
Thus by these subtill traines,
Doe severall passions invade the minde,
And strike our reason blinde.
Of which usurping ranck, some have thought Love
The first; as prone to move
Most frequent tumults, horrors, and unrests,
In our enflamed brests:
But this doth from the cloud of error grow,
Which thus we over-blow.
The thing, they here call Love, is blinde Desire,
Arm'd with bow, shafts, and fire;
Inconstant, like the sea, of whence 'tis borne,
Rough, swelling, like a storme:
With whom who sailes, rides on the surge of feare,
And boyles, as if he were
In a continuall tempest. Now, true Love
No such effects doth prove;
That is an essence farre more gentle, fine,
Pure, perfect, nay divine;
It is a golden chaine let downe from heaven,
Whose linkes are bright, and even.
That falls like sleepe on Lovers, and combines
The soft, and sweetest mindes
In equall knots: This beares no brands, nor darts,
To murther different hearts,
But, in a calme, and god-like unitie,
Preserves communitie.
O, who is he, that (in this peace) enjoyes
Th Elixir of all joyes?
A forme more fresh, than are the Eden bowers,
And lasting, as her flowers:
Richer than Time, and as Time's vertue, rare:
Sober, as saddest care:
A fixed thought, an eye un-taught to glance;
Who (blest with such high chance)
Would, at suggestion of a steep desire,
Cast himselfe from the spire
Of all his happinesse? But soft: I heare
Some vicious foole draw neare,
That cryes, 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 flye,
Turtles can chastly dye;
And yet (in this t'expresse our selves more cleare)
We do not number here,
Such Spirits as are only continent,
Because lust's meanes are spent:
Or those, who doubt the common mouth of fame,
And for their place and name,
Cannot so safely sinne. Their chastity
Is meere necessity.
Nor meane we those, whom Vowes and conscience
Have fill'd with abstinence:
Though we acknowledge, who can so abstayne,
Makes a most blessed gaine.
He that for love of goodnesse hateth ill,
Is more crowne-worthy still,
Than he, which for sins penalty forbeares;
His heart sins, though he feares.
But we propose a person like our Dove,
Grac'd with a Phoenix love;
A beauty of that cleare, and sparkling light,
Would make a day of night,
And turne the blackest sorrowes to bright joyes:
Whose od'rous breath destroyes
All taste of bitternesse, and makes the ayre
As sweet as she is faire.
A body so harmoniously compos'd,
As if Nature disclos'd
All her best symmetrie in that one feature!
O, so divine a creature,
Who could be false to? chiefly when he knowes
How only she bestowes
The wealthy treasure of her love on him;
Making his fortunes swim
In the full flood of her admir'd perfection?
What savage, brute affection,
Would not be fearefull to offend a dame
Of this excelling frame?
Much more a noble, and right generous mind
(To vertuous moods inclin'd)
That knowes the weight of guilt: He will refraine
From thoughts of such a straine.
And to his sense object this sentence ever,

Man may securely sinne, but safely never.


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Poem Submitted: Friday, April 9, 2010



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