21+ Best Ben Jonson Poems

Benjamin Jonson was an English playwright and poet, whose artistry exerted a lasting impact upon English poetry and stage comedy. He popularised the comedy of humours.

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Famous Ben Jonson Poems

Still To Be Neat

Still to be neat, still to be drest,
As you were going to a feast;
Still to be powder’d, still perfum’d:
Lady, it is to be presum’d,
Though art’s hid causes are not found,
All is not sweet, all is not sound.

Give me a look, give me a face,
That make simplicity a grace;
Robes loosely flowing, hair as free:
Such sweet neglect more taketh me
Than all th’adulteries of art.
They strike mine eyes, but not my heart.

Queen And Huntress

Queen and huntress, chaste and fair,
Now the sun is laid to sleep,
Seated in thy silver chair
State in wonted manner keep:
Hesperus entreats thy light,
Goddess excellently bright.

Earth, let not thy envious shade
Dare itself to interpose;
Cynthia’s shining orb was made
Heaven to clear when day did close:
Bless us then with wished sight,
Goddess excellently bright.

Lay thy bow of pearl apart
And thy crystal-shining quiver;
Give unto the flying hart
Space to breathe, how short soever:
Thou that mak’st a day of night,
Goddess excellently bright.

Simplex Munditiis

Still to be neat, still to be dressed,
As you were going to a feast;
Still to be powdered, still perfumed:
Lady, it is to be presumed,
Though art’s hid causes are not found,
All is not sweet, all is not sound.

Give me a look, give me a face,
That makes simplicity a grace;
Robes loosely flowing, hair as free:
Such sweet neglect more taketh me
Than all the adulteries of art;
They strike mine eyes, but not my heart.

On Salathiel Pavy

A child of Queen Elizabeth’s Chapel
Epitaphs: ii

WEEP with me, all you that read
This little story;
And know, for whom a tear you shed
Death’s self is sorry.
‘Twas a child that so did thrive
In grace and feature,
As Heaven and Nature seem’d to strive
Which own’d the creature.
Years he number’d scarce thirteen
When Fates turn’d cruel,
Yet three fill’d zodiacs had he been
The stage’s jewel;
And did act (what now we moan)
Old men so duly,
As sooth the Parcae thought him one,
He play’d so truly.
So, by error, to his fate
They all consented;
But, viewing him since, alas, too late!
They have repented;
And have sought, to give new birth,
In baths to steep him;
But, being so much too good for earth,
Heaven vows to keep him.

On Don Surly

Don Surly, to aspire the glorious name
 Of a great man, and to be thought the same,
Makes serious use of all great trade he know.
 He speaks to men with a Rhinocerotes’ nose,
Which he thinks great; and so reads verses too,
 And that is done as he saw great men do.
He has timpanies of business in his face,
 And can forget men’s names with a great grace.
He will both argue and discourse in oaths,
 Both which are great; and laugh at ill-made clothes-
That’s greater yet-to cry his own up neat.
 He doth, at meals, alone his pheasant eat,
Which is main greatness; and at his still board
 He drinks to no man; that’s, too, like a lord.
He keeps another’s wife, which is a spice
 Of solemn greatness. And he dares, at dice,
Blaspheme God greatly, or some poor hind beat
 That breathes in his dog’s way; and this is great.
Nay more, for greatness’ sake, he will be one
 May hear my epigrams, but like of none,
Surly, use other arts; these only can
 Style thee a most great fool, but no great man.

Porth Ceiriad Bay

Descended to the shore, odd how we left
the young girl with us to herself, and went
straight to examine the stratified cliffs,
forgot her entirely in our interest.

You marvelled at the shapes the clockwork sea
had worn the stone, talking keenly, until
the pace of this random sculpture recalled
your age to you, and then its anodynes.

And so you turned, pretending youth, courting
the girl as if you were a boy again,
leaving the wry cliffs to their erosion
and me to my observant solitude.


And must I sing? What subject shall I choose!
Or whose great name in poets’ heaven use,
For the more countenance to my active muse?

Hercules? alas, his bones are yet sore
With his old earthly labours t’ exact more
Of his dull godhead were sin. I’ll implore

Phoebus. No, tend thy cart still. Envious day
Shall not give out that I have made thee stay,
And foundered thy hot team, to tune my lay.

Nor will I beg of thee, lord of the vine,
To raise my spirits with thy conjuring wine,
In the green circle of thy ivy twine.

Pallas, nor thee I call on, mankind maid,
That at thy birth mad’st the poor smith afraid.
Who with his axe thy father’s midwife played.

Go, cramp dull Mars, light Venus, when he snorts,
Or with thy tribade trine invent new sports;
Thou, nor thy looseness with my making sorts.

Let the old boy, your son, ply his old task,
Turn the stale prologue to some painted mask;
His absence in my verse is all I ask.

Hermes, the cheater, shall not mix with us,
Though he would steal his sisters’ Pegasus,
And rifle him; or pawn his petasus.

Nor all the ladies of the Thespian lake,
Though they were crushed into one form, could make
A beauty of that merit, that should take

My muse up by commission; no, I bring
My own true fire: now my thought takes wing,
And now an epode to deep ears I sing.

The Hourglass

Do but consider this small dust
Here running in the glass,
By atoms moved;
Could you believe that this
The body was
Of one that loved?
And in his mistress’ flame, playing like a fly,
Turned to cinders by her eye?
Yes; and in death, as life, unblessed,
To have’t expressed,
Even ashes of lovers find no rest.

The Speech

The long laments I spent for ruin’d Troy,
Are dried; and now mine eyes run teares of joy.
No more shall men suppose Electra dead,
Though from the consort of her sisters fled
Unto the Artick circle, here to grace,
And gild this day with her serenest face:
And see, my daughter Iris hastes to throw
Her roseat wings in compasse of a bow,
About our State, as signe of my approach:
Attracting to her seate from Mithras coach,
A thousand different, and particular hiewes,
Which she throughout her body doth diffuse.
The Sun, as loth to part from this halfe Spheare,
Stands still; and Phoebe labors to appeare
In all as bright (if not as rich) as he:
And, for a note of more serenity,
My six faire sisters hither shift their lights;
To do this hower the utmost of her rites.
Where lest the captious, or prophane might doubt,
How these cleare heavenly bodies come about
All to be seen at once; yet neithers light
Eclips’d, or shadow’d by the others sight:
Let ignorance know, great King, this day is thine,
And doth admit no night; but all do shine
As well nocturnall, as diurnall fires,
To adde unto the flame of our desires.
Which are (now thou hast closd up Janus gates,
And giv’n so generall peace to all Estates)
That no offensive mist, or cloudy staine
May mixe with splendor of thy golden raigne;
But, as th’ast free’d thy Chamber, from the noyse
Of war and tumult; thou wilt powre those joyes
Upon this place, which claimes to be the seate
Of all the kingly race: the cabinet
To all thy counsels; and the judging chaire
To this thy speciall Kingdome. Who so faire
And wholsome laws, in every Court, shall strive
By Æquity, and their first innocence to thrive;
The base and guilty bribes of guiltier men
Shall be thrown back, and Justice look, as when
She lov’d the earth, and fear’d not to be sold
For that, which worketh all things to it, gold.

The Dam of other evils, avarice
Shall here locke down her jaws, and that rude vice
Of ignorant, and pittied greatnesse, pride,
Decline with shame; ambition now shall hide
Her face in dust, as dedicate to sleep,
That in great portals wont her watch to keep.
All ils shall fly the light: Thy Court be free
No lesse from envy, than from flattery;
All tumult, faction, and harsh discord cease,
That might perturbe the musick of thy peace:
The querulous nature shall no longer finde
Room for his thoughts: One pure consent of minde
Shall flow in every brest, and not the ayre,
Sun, Moon, or Stars shine more serenely faire.
This from that loud, blest Oracle, I sing,
Who here, and first, pronounc’d thee Brittaines King.
Long maist thou live, and see me thus appeare,
As ominous a Comet, from my Spheare,
Unto thy raigne; as that did auspicate
So lasting glory to Augustus State.

On Elizabeth L. H.

Epitaphs i

WOULDST thou hear what Man can say
In a little? Reader, stay.
Underneath this stone doth lie
As much Beauty as could die:
Which in life did harbour give
To more Virtue than doth live.
If at all she had a fault,
Leave it buried in this vault.
One name was Elizabeth,
The other, let it sleep with death:
Fitter, where it died, to tell
Than that it lived at all. Farewell.

Nine Stages Towards Knowing

Why do we lie

’Why do we lie,’ she questioned, her warm eyes
on the grey Autumn wind and its coursing,
’all afternoon wasted in bed like this?’
’Because we cannot lie all night together.’
’Yes,’ she said, satisfied at my reasoning,
but going on to search her cruel mind
for better excuses to leave my narrow bed.

Too many flesh suppers

Abstracted in art,
in architecture,
in scholars’ detail;

absorbed by music,
by minutiae,
by sad trivia;

all to efface her,
whom I can forget
no more than breathing.


Somewhere some nights she sees
curtains rise on those rites
we also knew and felt

I sit here desolate
in spite of company

Love is between people

And should she die?

And should she die tonight,
with this three years’ difference
as well between us now?

Or no, be maimed perhaps
and bearing pain, to live
on damages for life?

In any case, I wish
her no good, whom I loved
as Brunel loved iron.

All this Sunday long

All this Sunday long it has snowed,
and I weighted with the old grief
struggling to unseat her from my mind.

Yet winnowing our past I cannot find
a snow-gilded scene however brief:
thus do I wilfully increase my load.

Spatial Definition

Razed the room in which
we made so much love:

I try to re-place
it in space against
the windracked planetrees:

my eyes quarter air.

Able at last

’Able at last,’ she writes,
’to see things as they were,
I wonder we were so blind
to think our trust could bind
instead of just defer.’

I shudder at her fall,
for that was, from the heights,
not how it was at all.

Arrived at the place

Arrived at the place
to which I always
said I was going:

comfortless for lack
of her who chose not
to travel with me:

too aware of my way
to wherever next
is also alone.


Knowledge of her was
earned like miners’ pay:

afterwards I sought
friends’ knowledge of her:

now I need to know
nothing of this girl:

she whom once I knew
as my tongue my mouth.

On Poet-Ape

Poor POET-APE, that would be thought our chief,
Whose works are e’en the frippery of wit,
From brokage is become so bold a thief,
As we, the robbed, leave rage, and pity it.
At first he made low shifts, would pick and glean,
Buy the reversion of old plays; now grown
To a little wealth, and credit in the scene,
He takes up all, makes each man’s wit his own.
And, told of this, he slights it. Tut, such crimes
The sluggish gaping auditor devours;
He marks not whose ’twas first: and after-times
May judge it to be his, as well as ours.
Fool, as if half eyes will not know a fleece
From locks of wool, or shreds from the whole piece!

To Francis Beaumont

How I do love thee, Beaumont, and thy muse,
That unto me dost such religion use!
How I do fear myself, that am not worth
The least indulgent thought thy pen drops forth!
At once thou mak’st me happy, and unmak’st;
And giving largely to me, more thou takest!
What fate is mine, that so itself bereaves?
What art is thine, that so thy friend deceives?
When even there, where most thou praisest me,
For writing better, I must envy thee.

On A Robbery

RIDWAY robb’d DUNCOTE of three hundred pound,
Ridway was ta’en, arraign’d, condemn’d to die;
But, for this money, was a courtier found,
Begg’d Ridway’s pardon: Duncote now doth cry,
Robb’d both of money, and the law’s relief,
‘The courtier is become the greater thief.’

The Noble Balm

I send nor balms nor cor’sives to your wound:
Your fate hath found
A gentler and more agile hand to tend
The cure of that which is but corporal;
And doubtful days, which were named critical,
Have made their fairest flight
And now are out of sight.
Yet doth some wholesome physic for the mind
Wrapp’d in this paper lie,
Which in the taking if you misapply,
You are unkind.

Your covetous hand,
Happy in that fair honour it hath gain’d,
Must now be rein’d.
True valour doth her own renown command
In one full action; nor have you now more
To do, than be a husband of that store.
Think but how dear you bought
This fame which you have caught:
Such thoughts will make you more in love with truth.
‘Tis wisdom, and that high,
For men to use their fortune reverently,
Even in youth.

His Supposed Mistress

If I freely can discover
What would please me in my lover,
I would have her fair and witty,
Savouring more of court than city;
A little proud, but full of pity;
Light and humourous in her toying;
Oft building hopes, and soon destroying;
Long, but sweet in the enjoying,
Neither too easy, nor too hard:
All extremes I would have barred.

She should be allowed her passions,
So they were but used as fashions;
Sometimes froward, and then frowning,
Sometimes sickish, and then swowning,
Every fit with change still crowning.
Purely jealous I would have her;
Then only constant when I crave her,
’Tis a virtue should not save her.
Thus, nor her delicates would cloy me,
Neither her peevishness annoy me.

To Doctor Empiric

When men a dangerous disease did ‘scape,
Of old, they gave a cock to Aesculape.
Let me give two, that doubly am got free
From my disease’s danger, and from thee.

To Censorious Courtling

COURTLING, I rather thou should’st utterly
Dispraise my work, than praise it frostily:
When I am read, thou feign’st a weak applause,
As if thou wert my friend, but lack’dst a cause.
This but thy judgment fools: the other way
Would both thy folly and thy spite betray.

Gypsy Songs


THE faery beam upon you,
The stars to glister on you;
A moon of light
In the noon of night,
Till the fire-drake hath o’ergone you!
The wheel of fortune guide you,
The boy with the bow beside you;
Run ay in the way
Till the bird of day,
And the luckier lot betide you!


To the old, long life and treasure!
To the young all health and pleasure!
To the fair, their face
With eternal grace
And the soul to be loved at leisure!
To the witty, all clear mirrors;
To the foolish, their dark errors;
To the loving sprite,
A secure delight;
To the jealous, his own false terrors!

Third Charm from Masque of Queens

The owl is abroad, the bat, and the toad,
And so is the cat-a-mountain,
The ant and the mole sit both in a hole,
And the frog peeps out o’ the fountain;
The dogs they do bay, and the timbrels play,
The spindle is now a turning;
The moon it is red, and the stars are fled,
But all the sky is a-burning:

The ditch is made, and our nails the spade,
With pictures full, of wax and of wool;
Their livers I stick, with needles quick;
There lacks but the blood, to make up the flood.
Quickly, Dame, then bring your part in,
Spur, spur upon little Martin,
Merrily, merrily, make him fail,
A worm in his mouth, and a thorn in his tail,
Fire above, and fire below,
With a whip in your hand, to make him go.

Hymn To The Belly

ROOM! room! make room for the bouncing Belly,
First father of sauce and deviser of jelly;
Prime master of arts and the giver of wit,
That found out the excellent engine, the spit,
The plough and the flail, the mill and the hopper,
The hutch and the boulter, the furnace and copper,
The oven, the bavin, the mawkin, the peel,
The hearth and the range, the dog and the wheel.
He, he first invented the hogshead and tun,
The gimlet and vice too, and taught ’em to run;
And since, with the funnel and hippocras bag,
He’s made of himself that now he cries swag;
Which shows, though the pleasure be but of four inches,
Yet he is a weasel, the gullet that pinches
Of any delight, and not spares from his back
Whatever to make of the belly a sack.
Hail, hail, plump paunch! O the founder of taste,
For fresh meats or powdered, or pickle or paste!
Devourer of broiled, baked, roasted or sod!
And emptier of cups, be they even or odd!
All which have now made thee so wide i’ the waist,
As scarce with no pudding thou art to be laced;
But eating and drinking until thou dost nod,
Thou break’st all thy girdles and break’st forth a god.