For Old Religion’s Sake

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Ben Johnson (1572 – 1637)

“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.”

Robert Herrick

 

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:
For in your verse all Cupid’s armory,
His flames, his shafts, his quiver, and his bow,
His very eyes are yours to overthrow.
But then his mother’s sweets you so apply,
Her joys, her smiles, her loves, as readers take
For Venus’ ceston every line you make.