Monday, June 27, 2022

Ben Jonson*

Ben Jonson (1572—1637) is a British playwright and poet who spent time in prison on several occasions, both for his actions and for what he had written. In 1597 he was imprisoned for alleged seditious content in the unfinished satire The Isle of Dogs which Jonson had been hired to complete — and in 1605 for the collaboration Eastward Ho! which included a joke at the king’s expense.

Early on he found popularity with such satirical plays as Every Man in His Humour (1598), and Bartholomew Fair (1614). He later became popular in the court of James I, becoming unofficial Poet Laureate in 1616; for several years after this he focused on writing masques for presentation at court.

His early poetry, like his plays, often create witty portraits exposing human follies and vices. To me, his most-engaging works for today’s readers are his rich devotional poems which express the depth of his personal faith.

Jonson admired, and was admired by, such contemporaries as John Donne, and William Shakespeare; he was also influential on the generation of younger poets that followed, including Robert Herrick, and Richard Lovelace. A large crowd of mourners attended his funeral; his body is buried at Westminster Abbey.

To Heaven

Good and great God, can I not think of thee
But it must straight my melancholy be?
Is it interpreted in me disease
That, laden with my sins, I seek for ease?
Oh be thou witness, that the reins dost know
And hearts of all, if I be sad for show,
And judge me after; if I dare pretend
To ought but grace or aim at other end.
As thou art all, so be thou all to me,
First, midst, and last, converted one, and three;
My faith, my hope, my love; and in this state
My judge, my witness, and my advocate.
Where have I been this while exiled from thee?
And whither rapt, now thou but stoop'st to me?
Dwell, dwell here still. O, being everywhere,
How can I doubt to find thee ever here?
I know my state, both full of shame and scorn,
Conceived in sin, and unto labour borne,
Standing with fear, and must with horror fall,
And destined unto judgment, after all.
I feel my griefs too, and there scarce is ground
Upon my flesh to inflict another wound.
Yet dare I not complain, or wish for death
With holy Paul, lest it be thought the breath
Of discontent; or that these prayers be
For weariness of life, not love of thee.

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

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.