Monday, December 23, 2013

Ben Jonson

Ben Jonson (1572—1637) is less well known today than his contemporary, William Shakespeare, although in his own time Jonson was the more popular playwright. Shakespeare was one of the actors in the first production of Jonson's play Every Man in His Humour (1598).

That was also the year Jonson was imprisoned for killing a fellow actor in a duel. He claimed "benefit of clergy", a loophole which provided a lesser charge if he recited Psalm 51 and forfeited his possessions. While in prison Jonson converted to Catholicism. He remained a Catholic for twelve years before returning to the Church of England after King Henri IV of France, who was tolerant of Protestants, was assassinated by forces loyal to the Pope.

In the 1620s a group of younger poets, including Robert Herrick and Sir John Suckling, referred to themselves as "Sons of Ben" or the "Tribe of Ben" in honour of Ben Jonson.

A Hymn on the Nativity of My Saviour

I sing the birth was born tonight,
The Author both of life and light;
The angels so did sound it,
And like the ravished shepherds said,
Who saw the light, and were afraid,
Yet searched, and true they found it.

The Son of God, the eternal King,
That did us all salvation bring,
And freed the soul from danger;
He whom the whole world could not take,
The Word, which heaven and earth did make,
Was now laid in a manger.

The Father's wisdom willed it so,
The Son's obedience knew no "No,"
Both wills were in one stature;
And as that wisdom had decreed,
The Word was now made Flesh indeed,
And took on Him our nature.

What comfort by Him do we win?
Who made Himself the Prince of sin,
To make us heirs of glory?
To see this Babe, all innocence,
A Martyr born in our defense,
Can man forget this story?

This is the first Kingdom Poets post about Ben Jonson: second post.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His new poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.