Ben Jonson, Robert Herrick, & John Suckling


Ben Jonson's Biography
15721637, English dramatist and poet, b. Westminster, London. The high-spirited buoyancy of Jonson's plays and the brilliance of his language have earned him a reputation as one of the great playwrights in English literature. After a brief term at bricklaying, his stepfather's trade, and after military service in Flanders, he began working for Philip Henslowe as an actor and playwright. In 1598 he was tried for killing another actor in a duel but escaped execution by claiming right of clergy (that he could read and write).
His first important play, Every Man in His Humour, was produced in 1598, with Shakespeare in the cast. In 1599 its companion piece, Every Man out of His Humour, was produced. In The Poetaster (1601) Jonson satirized several of his fellow playwrights, particularly Dekker and Marston, who were writing at that time for a rival company of child actors. He collaborated with Chapman and Marston on the comedy Eastward Ho! (1604). A passage in the play, derogatory to the Scots, offended James I, and the three playwrights spent a brief time in prison. Jonson's great period, both artistically and financially, began in 1606 with the production of Volpone. Jonson's good fortune declined rapidly. His final plays were failures, and with the accession of Charles I in 1625 his value at court was less appreciated.
His plays, written along classical lines, are marked by a pungent and uncompromising satire, by a liveliness of action, and by numerous humor characters, whose single passion or oddity overshadows all their other traits. He was a moralist who sought to improve the ways of men by portraying human foibles and passions through exaggeration and distortion. Jonson's nondramatic poetry includes Epigrams (1616); The Forrest (1616), notable for the two beautiful songs: "Drink to me only with thine eyes" and "Come, my Celia, let us prove"; and Underwoods (1640). Jonson exerted a strong influence over his contemporaries. Although arrogant and contentious, he was a boon companion, and his followers, sometimes called the "sons of Ben," loved to gather with him in the London taverns.

Jonson's "On My First Son"

Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sin was too much hope of thee, lov'd boy.
Seven years tho' wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
O, could I lose all father now! For why
Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon 'scap'd world's and flesh's rage,
And if no other misery, yet age?
Rest in soft peace, and, ask'd, say, "Here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry."
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such,
As what he loves may never like too much.

Discussion Questions for "On My First Son"

Recall and Interpret
1. What does Jonson say was his sin and the price he pays for it? Given these statements, how do you think Jonson is handling his son's death?
2. What reasons does Jonson give to envy his son's state? Why might he still lament this state despite all these reasons?
3. What will Jonson do henceforth for his son's sake? Why?

Evaluate and Connect
4. Reread your response to the Reading Focus on page 438. In your opinion, how would Jonson have responded to Tennyson's statement?
5. Theme Connections Jonson calls his son his "best piece of poetry." What does this epitaph (see page R5) tell you about his feelings for the boy?

Jonson's "Song: to Celia"

Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
And I'll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove's nectar sup,
I would not change for thine.

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
Not so much honouring thee
As giving it a hope, that there
It could not withered be.
But thou thereon didst only breathe,
And sent'st it back to me;
Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,
Not of itself, but thee.

Discussion Questions for "Song., To Celia"

Recall and Interpret
1. What would the speaker sacrifice for a kiss? How valuable is Celia's kiss? Explain.
2. What reason does the speaker give for sending the wreath? What is he implying?
3. Describe the speaker's feelings for Celia. Do you think Celia returns his feelings? Why or why not?

Evaluate and Connect
4. If you were Celia, would you trust that the speaker's love would last? Why or why not?
5. Why might this song have remained popular for so many years?

Robert Herrick's Biography

(1591-1674), was one of England's finest lyric poets. He is best known for his love lyrics to imaginary ladies and graceful poems about nature and English country life. Herrick celebrated the earthy joys of rural life in such poems as "Corinna's Going A-Maying," "The Argument of His Book," and "To Daffodils." In "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time," he cleverly adapts the New Testament parable of the 10 virgins to the classical theme of carpe diem ("seize the day"). The poem contains the famous line "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may." Herrick's lyric poetry reflects the influence of Roman poets and the English poet and playwright Ben Jonson.
Herrick was born in London. He was ordained in the Church of England in 1623 and served as a vicar (minister of a parish) in the rural county of Devonshire (now Devon). Herrick's poems were widely known in manuscript form before being published in the collection Hesperides (1648).

Herrick's "To the Virgins to Make Much of Time"

Gather ye rosebuds 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.

"To the Virgins to Make Much of Time"
Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. What warning does the speaker impart in lines 3-4? In your opinion, what message is the speaker trying to convey in the first stanza?
2. In this poem, what might rosebuds symbolize (see page R16)?
3. In the second stanza, what metaphor (see page R9) does the speaker use to describe the sun? How does the path of the sun reinforce the speaker's message?
4. Summarize the speaker's views on youth and age expressed in the third stanza.
5. What conclusion does the speaker reach in the last stanza? How could you restate the last two lines?

Evaluate and Connect
6. Do you agree with the speaker's ideas about youth and age? Might your parents or grandparents agree? Why or why not?
7. Find an instance of personification in this poem (see page Rll). Why might Herrick have chosen to personify this? Explain.
8. What, do you think, is the speaker's philosophy on life? Do you think this is a useful philosophy to adopt? Explain.
9. What is your opinion of the use of rhythm and rhyme in this poem? Does is support or detract from the message of the peom?
10. Robert Herrick never married. How does this information affect your reading of the poem?

Sir John Suckling's Biography

(1609-1642), was the most famous member of the Cavalier poets, a group associated with the court of King Charles I of England. In his famous comedy The Way of the World (1700), William Congreve called the poet "natural, easy Suckling." Suckling was notorious for his wild living and his best verse has a witty and knowing quality. Suckling's plays include Aglaura (1637). His short poems were published four years after his death in a collection of his writings titled Fragmenta Aurea. Suckling's ability as a literary critic can be seen in "A Session of Poets" (1637), a verse review of poetry in his day.
Suckling was born in Middlesex (now part of London), and served in the army. In 1641, he was accused of plotting to gain control of the army for the king. He fled to Paris and died there, perhaps having poisoned himself.

Suckling's "The Constant Lover"

OUT upon it, I have loved
Three whole days together!
And am like to love three more,
If it prove fair weather.

Time shall moult away his wings
Ere he shall discover
In the whole wide world again
Such a constant lover.

But the spite on 't is, no praise
Is due at all to me:
Love with me had made no stays,
Had it any been but she.

Had it any been but she,
And that very face,
There had been at least ere this
A dozen dozen in her place.

"The Constant Lover"
Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. How long has the speaker been in love thus far? How much longer will he be in love "if it prove fair weather"? What do these statements suggest about the speaker's love?
2. Irony is the contrast between appearance and reality. What is ironic about the speaker's claim in the second stanza?
3. According to the speaker, who deserves the praise for his fidelity? Why? What does this tell you about him?

Evaluate and Connect
4. Describe the tone of "The Constant Lover." (See page R17.) Do you find this tone appropriate? Explain.
5. How would you advise a friend who was being pursued by someone with an attitude like the speaker's? Give reasons for your answer.

Suckling's "Why So Pale and Wan, Fond Lover?"

Why so pale and wan, fond lover?
Prithee, why so pale?
Will, when looking well can't move her,
Looking ill prevail? Prithee, why so pale?

Why so dull and mute, young sinner?
Prithee, why so mute?
Will, when speaking well can't win her,
Saying nothing do 't? Prithee, why so mute?

Quit, quit for shame!
This will not move;
This cannot take her.
If of herself she will not love,
Nothing can make her:
The devil take her!

"Why So Pale and Wan, Fond Lover?"
Discussion Questions

Recall and Interpret
1. Paraphrase the speaker's questions in lines 3-4 and lines 8-9. What point might the speaker be trying to make by asking these questions?
2. What advice does the speaker give the lover? What does this advice suggest about the speaker's attitude toward love?
3. Why might the speaker in this poem feel that the pale lover is "fond," or foolish?

Evaluate and Connect
4. How might the speaker describe "passion',? How might the person to whom he is speaking describe "passion',? Give reasons for your answer.
5. Refer to the list you created for the Reading Focus on page 446. What types of wit does Suckling use?