Ben Jonson

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

Xiii: Epistle: To Katherine, Lady Aubigny - Poem by Ben Jonson

'Tis growne almost a danger to speake true
Of any good minde, now: There are so few.
The bad, by number, are so fortified,
As what th'have lost t'expect, they dare deride.
So both the prais'd, and praisers suffer: Yet,
For others ill, ought none their good forget.
I, therefore, who professe my selfe in love
With every vertue, wheresoere it move,
And howsoever; as I am at fewd
With sinne and vice, though with a throne endew'd;
And, in this name, am given out dangerous
By arts, and practise of the vicious,
Such as suspect themselves, and think it fit
For their owne cap'tall crimes, t'indite my wit;
I, that have suffer'd this; and, though forsooke
Of Fortune, have not alter'd yet my looke,
Or so my selfe abandon'd, as because
Men are not just, or keepe no holy lawes
Of nature, and societie, I should faint;
Or feare to draw true lines, 'cause others paint:
I, Madame, am become your praiser. Where,
If it may stand with your soft blush to heare,
Your selfe but told unto your selfe, and see
In my character, what your features bee,
You will not from the paper slightly passe:
No Lady, but, at sometime loves her glasse.
And this shall be no false one, but as much
Remov'd, as you from need to have it such.
Looke then, and see your selfe. I will not say
Your beautie; for you see that every day:
And so doe many more. All which can call
It perfect, proper, pure, and naturall,
Not taken up o' th'Doctors, but as well
As I, can say, and see it doth excell.
That askes but to be censur'd by the eyes:
And, in those outward formes, all fooles are wise.
Nor that your beautie wanted not a dower,
Doe I reflect. Some Alderman has power,
Or cos'ning Farmer of the customes so,
T'advance his doubtfull issue, and ore-flow
A Princes fortune: These are gifts of chance,
And raise not vertue; they may vice enhance.
My mirror is more subtill, cleare, refin'd,
And takes, and gives the beauties of the mind.
Though it reject not those of Fortune: such
As Blood, and Match. Wherein, how more than much
Are you engaged to your happie fate,
For such a lot! that mixt you with a State
Of so great title, birth, but vertue most,
Without which, all the rest were sounds, or lost.
'Tis onely that can time, and chance defeat:
For he, that once is good, is ever great.
Wherewith, then, Madame, can you better pay
This blessing of your starres, than by that way
Of vertue, which you tread? what if alone?
Without companions? 'Tis safe to have none.
In single paths, dangers with ease are watch'd:
Contagion in the prease is soonest catch'd.
This makes, that wisely you decline your life,
Farre from the maze of custome, error, strife,
And keepe an even, and unalter'd gaite;
Not looking by, or back (like those, that waite
Times, and occasions, to start forth, and seeme)
Which though the turning world may dis-esteeme,
Because that studies spectacles, and showes,
And after varied, as fresh objects goes,
Giddie with change, and therefore cannot see
Right, the right way: yet must your comfort bee
Your conscience, and not wonder, if none askes
For Truths complexion, where they all weare maskes.
Let who will follow fashions, and attyres,
Maintaine their liedgers forth, for forrain wyres,
Melt downe their husbands land, to powre away
On the close groome, and page, on new-yeares day,
And almost, all dayes after, while they live;
(They finde it both so wittie, and safe to give)
Let 'hem on poulders, oyles, and paintings, spend,
Till that no usurer, nor his bawds dare lend
Them, or their officers: and no man know,
Whether it be a face they weare, or no.
Let 'hem waste body, and state; and after all,
When their owne Parasites laugh at their fall,
May they have nothing left, whereof they can
Boast, but how oft they have gone wrong to man:
And call it their brave sinne. For such there be
That doe sinne onely for the infamie:
And never think, how vice doth every houre,
Eat on her clients, and some one devoure.
You, Madam, yong have learn'd to shun these shelves,
Whereon the most of mankind wracke themselves,
And, keeping a just course, have early put
Into your harbour, and all passage shut
'Gainst stormes, or pyrats, that might charge your peace;
For which you worthy are the glad increase
Of your blest wombe, made fruitfull from above
To pay your lord the pledges of chaste love:
And raise a noble stemme, to give the fame,
To Cliftons blood, that is deny'd their name.
Grow, grow, faire tree, and as thy branches shoote,
Heare, what the Muses sing above thy root,
By me, their Priest (if they can ought divine)
Before the moones have fill'd their tripple trine,
To crowne the burthen which you go withall,
It shall a ripe and timely issue fall,
T'expect the honors of great 'Avbigny:
And greater rites, yet writ in mystery,
But which the Fates forbid me to reveale.
Only, thus much, out of a ravish'd zeale,
Unto your name, and goodnesse of your life,
They speake; since you are truly that rare wife,
Other great wives may blush at: when they see
What your try'd manners are, what theirs should be.
How you love one, and him you should; how still
You are depending on his word, and will;
Not fashion'd for the Court, or strangers eyes;
But to prease him, who is the dearer prise
Unto himselfe, by being so deare to you.
This makes, that your affections still be new,
And that your soules conspire, as they were gone
Each into other, and had now made one.
Live that one, still; and as long yeares do passe,
Madame, be bold to use this truest glasse:
Wherein, your forme, you still the same shall find;
Because nor it can change, nor such a mind.


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Poem Submitted: Friday, April 9, 2010



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