Poetry about Elizabeth Sidney, Ben Jonson 1

XII - EPISTLE TO ELIZABETH COUNTESS OF RUTLAND

Ben Jonson
Ben Jonson

MADAM

Whilst that for which all virtue is now sold,

And almost every vice, almighty gold,

That which, to boot with hell, is thought worth heaven,

And for it, life, conscience, yea souls are given,

Toils, by grave custom, up and down the court,

To every squire, or groom, that will report

Well of ill, only all the following year,

Just to weight their this day’s presents bear;

While it makes huishers serviceable men,

And some one apteth to be trusted then.

Though never after ; whilers it gains the voice

Of some grand peer, Whose air doth make rejoice

The fool that gave it ; who will want and weep,

When his proud patrons favors are asleep ;

While thus it buys great grace, and hunts poor fame;

Runs between man and man ; ‘tween dame, and dame;

Soldiers crack’d friendship ; makes love last a day ;

Or perhaps less : whilst gold bears all this sway,

I, that have none to send you, send you verse.

A present which, if elder writs rehearse

The truth of times, was once of more esteem

Than this our guilt, nor golden age can deem

When gold was made no weapon to cut throats,

Or put to flight Astrea, when her ingóts

Were yet unfound, and better placed in earth

Than here, to give pride fame, and peasants birth,

But less this dross carry what price it will

With noble ignorants, and let them still

Turn upon scorned verse, their quarter-face:

With you, I know, my offering will find grace.

For what a sin ‘gainst your great father’s spirit,

Were it to think. That you should not inherit

His love unto the Muses, when his skill

Almost you have, or may have when you will !

Wherein wise nature you a dowry gave,

Worth an estate, treble to that you have.

Beauty I know is good, and blood is more ;

Riches thought most ; but, madam, think what store

The world hath seen, which all these had in trust

And now lie in their forgotten dust.

It is the Muse alone, can raise to heaven,

And at her strong arm’s, end, hold up, and even

The souls she loves. Those other glorious notes,

Inscribed in touch or marble, or the coats

Painted or carv’d upon our great men’s tombs,

Or in their windows, do but prove the wombs

That bred them, graves: when they were born they died

That had no muse to make their fame abide

How many equal wit the Argive queen,

Have beauty known, yet none so famous seen?

Achilles was not first, that valiant was,

Or, in an army’s head, that lock’d in brass

Gave killing stroked. They brave men before

Ajax, or Idomen, or all the store

That homer brought to Troy ; yet none so live

Because they lack’d the sacred pen could give,

Like life unto them. Who heaved Hercules

Unto the stars, or the Tindarides?

Who placed Jason’s Argo in the sky,

Or set bright Ariadne’s crown so high?

Who made a lump of Berenice’s hair

Or lifted Cassiopea in her chair,

But only poets, rapt with rage divine?

And such, or my hopes fail, shall make you shine.

You, and that other star, that purest light,

Of all Lucina’s train, Lucy the bright;

Than which a nobler heavan itself knows not;

Who, though she hath a better verser got,

Or poet, in the courts-account, than I,

And who doth me, though I not him, envy,

Yet for the timely favors she hath done,

To my less sanguine musem wherein she hath won

My grateful soul, the subject of her powers,

I have already used some happy hours,

To her remembrance ; which when time shall bring,

To curious light, to notes I then shall sing,

Will prove old Orpheus; act no tale to be;

For I shall move stocks, stones, no less than he.

Than all that have but done my Muse least grace,

Shall thronging come, and boast the happy place

They hold in my strange poems, which as yet,

Had not their form tocuh;d by an English Wit.

There, like a rich and golden pyramid,

Borne up by statues, shall I rear your head

Above your under-carved ornaments

And shew how to like my soul presents

Your form imprest there: not with tickling rhymes

Or common-places, flich’d, that take these times,

But high and noble matter, such as flies

From brains entranced, and fill’d with extasies;

Moods, which the godlike Sidney oft did prove,

And your brave friend and mine so well did love.

Who, Wheresoe’er to be …

The Rest is lost

Who, wheresoe’er he be, on what dear coast,

Now thinking on you, though to England lost,

For that firm grace he holds in your regard,

I, that am grateful for him, have prepared

This hasty sacrifice; wherein I rear

A vow as new and ominous as the year:

Before his swift and circled race be run,

My best of wishes, may you bear a son.

This page was added on 30/11/2007.

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