A SWEET disorder in the dress Kindles in clothes a wantonness : A lawn about the shoulders thrown Into a fine distraction : An erring lace which here and there Enthrals the crimson stomacher : A cuff neglectful, and thereby Ribbons to flow confusedly : A winning wave (deserving note) In the tempestuous petticoat : A careless shoe-string, in whose tie I see a wild civility : Do more bewitch me than when art Is too precise in every part.
By Robert Herrick
Fair Daffodils, we weep to see You haste away so soon; As yet the early-rising sun Has not attain’d his noon. Stay, stay, Until the hasting day Has run But to the even-song; And, having pray’d together, we Will go with you along.
We have short time to stay, as you, We have as short a spring; As quick a growth to meet decay, As you, or anything. We die As your hours do, and dry Away, Like to the summer’s rain; Or as the pearls of morning’s dew, Ne’er to be found again.
“Tears are the noble language of eyes, and when true love of words is destitute. The eye by tears speak, while the tongue is mute.”
A Prayer To Ben Johnson
by Robert Herrick (1591 – 1674)
When I a verse shall make,
Know I have pray’d thee
For old religion’s sake,
Saint Ben to aid me.
Make the way smooth for me,
When I, thy Herrick,
Honouring thee, on my knee
Offer my lyric.
Candles I’ll give to thee,
And a new altar,
And thou, Saint Ben, shalt be
Writ in my psalter.
Ben Johnson has the unique position of being the only person buried upright in Westminster Abby. Is it because he preferred people trampling on his head and not his heart or was that all the room the church could find at the time? Johnson was a playwright, humorist, scholar and poet. His writing landed him in jail several times and got him out of it just as quickly. A young Shakespeare was in the cast of one of Johnson’s plays, Every Man in His Humour. Johnson was a man who had the good fortune of royal patronage and the ear of James I for his clear thinking and philosophical approach to academic rigor. In 1616 he was given an annual pension by the King, making him possibly England’s first poet laureate.
By the 1620’s Johnson’s health and productivity was in decline and several poets that followed in his footsteps, Robert Herrick, Richard Lovelace, and Sir John Suckling called themselves the Sons of Ben. Johnson’s late plays were a critical and financial disaster, but he had at least the good humor to write an ode to himself poking fun at his expense.
The last line of the sonnet below is confusing with the word “ceston”. I admit I was not sure of the meaning when I first read it and after several searches of online dictionaries I am not sure I am clear yet. Ceston is not an English word today. Seston are minute particles in water or soil, but I don’t think that’s what is meant. In French Ceston means basket, that makes a little more sense. But if you know the renaissance meaning of the word ceston please help solve the mystery. What does ceston mean?
A Sonnet to the Noble Lady, the Lady Mary Wroth
by Ben Johnson
I that have been a lover, and could show it,
Though not in these, in rithmes not wholly dumb,
Since I exscribe your sonnets, am become
A better lover, and much better poet.
Nor is my Muse or I ashamed to owe it
To those true numerous graces, where of some
But charm the senses, others overcome
Both brains and hearts; and mine now best do know it:
“Love wants everything without condition. Love has no law.”
by Peirre de Ronsard
Sonnet to Helen
By Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
When you sit aging under evening’s star
By hearth and candle, spinning yarns and wool,
You’ll sing my verse in awe and say “Ronsard
Wrought song of me when I was beautiful”
Hearing such words, your serving-maid that night,
Though half-asleep from drudging, all the same
Will wake at my name’s sound and stand upright
Hailing the deathless praises of your name.
I’ll be a boneless phantom resting sound
Amid the myrtly shades1 far underground.
You, by the hearth, a crone bent low in sorrow
For your proud scorn that willed my love away.
Live now, I beg of you. Wait not the morrow.
Gather the roses of your life today.
Sonnet à Hélène
by Pierre de Ronsard
Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir à la chandelle,
Assise aupres du feu, devidant et filant,
Direz, chantant mes vers, en vous esmerveillant:
« Ronsard me celebroit du temps que j’estois belle ! »
Lors vous n’aurez servante oyant telle nouvelle,
Desja sous le labeur à demy sommeillant,
Qui au bruit de mon nom ne s’aille resveillant,
Benissant1 vostre nom de louange immortelle.
Je seroy sous la terre, et fantaume sans os ;
Par les ombres Myrtheux je prendray mon repos.
Vous serez au fouyer une vieille accroupie,
Regrettant mon amour, et vostre fier desdain.
Vivez, si m’en croyez2, n’attendez à demain :
Cueillez dés aujourd’huy les roses de la vie.
Is it that lyric poetry fell out of popular taste in the 20th century because people stopped enjoying reading it or was it because poets tired of writing it? The reality is when constrained by rhyme and meter it is nearly impossible to build upon what great minds have already thought up and put to paper beautifully centuries before. Take Yeats classic poem When You Are Old. It’s an obvious homage to Ronsard’s Sonnet to Helen. Ronsard having to be a bit more clever in his use of sexual innuendo’s to adhere to the social norms of his day, while Yeats’ poem is more nostalgic in nature. I have included Yeats poem in an earlier Fourteen Lines blog post, you can compare the two.
But it also interesting to see the connections between Ronsard and Herrick’s classic To The Virgins, To Make Much of Time. Is it coincidence? Or is it a function of lyric poetry of that time period, which focused mostly on subjects of love, has limited metaphors to choose from and so it’s inevitable there would be connections and overlap? I think the truth probably lies squarely on both. I think poets like to play and in doing so create connections and homage to writers they admire. I think that was true in the 16th Century and I think it is true today, regardless of the style with which writer’s write. Literature is a continuum of ideas where no one person is the beginning or the end. It is a sine-cosine wave that reverberates throughout time. Each of us have different length strings that resonate with the vibrations of the songs that stir our imaginations.
What two poems do you find connections, obvious or obscure? Have you written an ode to poet? If not, what poet would you most like to write an homage?
To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time
by Robert Herrick (1591 – 1674)
Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.
Were I on bended knee,
And you upon a throne?
What would you decree?
What would I bemoan?
Have we any choice?
Is there any sense?
Not by human voice.
Nor by recompense.
by William Shakespeare
That god forbid, that made me first your slave,
I should in thought control your times of pleasure,
Or at your hand th’ account of hours to crave,
Being your vassal bound to stay your leisure.
O let me suffer, being at your beck,
Th’ imprisoned absence of your liberty;
And patience tame to sufferance bide each check,
Without accusing you of injury.
Be where you list, your charter is so strong
That you yourself may privilege your time
To what you will; to you it doth belong
Yourself to pardon of self-doing crime.
I am to wait, though waiting so be hell,
Not blame your pleasure, be it ill or well
Happy Twelfth Night! Depending on how you start counting the 12 days of Christmas, it was either yesterday or today and marks the end of the holidays and the beginning of Epiphany. It’s time to take down festive decorations and settle in to the pleasant gloom of January. Twelfth Night has lost some of its relevance, but my Mother honored the tradition of taking down her Christmas tree on twelfth night.
Historically Twelfth night was an excuse for a party. Few of us are waking up to bake a cake with a pea and bean inside and invite friends over to drink wassail, but it sounds like the kind of silliness we need right now as a distraction from Trumpism. Shakespeare wrote Twelfth Night with the intention of it being performed on Twelfth Night. A comedy with serious themes on love and service. Sounds like life….
In case you are inspired to throw a Twelfth Night shindig this evening, here’s a delicious wassail recipe. Serve it hot with a slice of cake.