Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, EPISTLE TO ELIZABETH, COUNTESS RUTLAND, by BEN JONSON



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EPISTLE TO ELIZABETH, COUNTESS RUTLAND, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Madam, / whilst that for which all virtue now is sold
Last Line: My best of wishes, may you bear a son.
Subject(s): Holidays; New Year; Sidney, Elizabeth. Countess Of Rutland


Madam,
Whilst that, for which, all virtue now is sold,
And almost every vice, almighty gold,
That which, to boot with hell, is thought worth heaven,
And, for it, life, conscience, yea, souls are given,
Toils, by grave custom, up and down the court,
To every squire, or groom, that will report
Well, or ill, only, all the following year,
Just to the weight their this day's presents bear;
While it makes huishers serviceable men,
And some one apteth to be trusted, then,
Though never after; whiles it gains the voice
Of some grand peer, whose air doth make rejoice
The fool that gave it; who will want, and weep,
When his proud patron's favours are asleep;
While thus it buys great grace, and hunts poor fame;
Runs between man, and man; 'tween dame, and dame;
Solders cracked friendship; makes love last a day;
Or perhaps less: whilst gold bears all this sway,
I, that have none (to send you) send you verse.
A present, which (if elder writs rehearse
The truth of times) was once of more esteem,
Than this, our gilt, nor golden age can deem,
When gold was made no weapon to cut throats,
Or put to flight Astrea, when her ingots
Were yet unfound, and better placed in earth,
Than, here, to give pride fame, and peasants birth.
But let this dross carry what price it will
With noble ignorants, and let them still,
Turn, upon scorned verse, their quarter-face:
With you, I know, my offering will find grace.
For what a sin 'gainst your great father's spirit,
Were it to think, that you should not inherit
His love unto the muses, when his skill
Almost you have, or may have, when you will?
Wherein wise Nature you a dowry gave,
Worth an estate, treble to that you have.
Beauty, I know, is good, and blood is more;
Riches thought most: but, madam, think what store
The world hath seen, which all these had in trust,
And now lie lost in their forgotten dust.
It is the muse, alone, can raise to heaven,
And, at her strong arms' end, hold up, and even,
The souls, she loves. Those other glorious notes,
Inscribed in touch or marble, or the coats
Painted, or carved upon our great men's tombs,
Or in their windows; do but prove the wombs,
That bred them, graves: when they were born, they died,
That had no muse to make their fame abide.
How many equal with the Argive queen,
Have beauty known, yet none so famous seen?
Achilles was not first, that valiant was,
Or, in an army's head, that, locked in brass,
Gave killing strokes. There were brave men, before
Ajax, or Idomen, or all the store,
That Homer brought to Troy; yet none so live:
Because they lacked the sacred pen, could give
Like life unto them. Who heaved Hercules
Unto the stars? Or the Tyndarides?
Who placed Jason's Argo in the sky?
Or set bright Ariadne's crown so high?
Who made a lamp of Berenice's hair?
Or lifted Cassiopea in her chair?
But only poets, rapt with rage divine?
And such, or my hopes fail, shall make you shine.
You, and that other star, that purest light,
Of all Lucina's train; Lucy the bright.
Than which a nobler heaven itself knows not.
Who, though she have a better verser got,
(Or poet, in the court account) than I,
And, who doth me (though I not him) envy,
Yet, for the timely favours she hath done,
To my less sanguine muse, wherein she hath won
My grateful soul, the subject of her powers,
I have already used some happy hours,
To her remembrance; which when time shall bring
To curious light, the notes I then shall sing,
Will prove old Orpheus' act no tale to be:
For I shall move stocks, stones, no less than he.
Then all, that have but done my muse least grace,
Shall thronging come, and boast the happy place
They hold in my strange poems, which, as yet,
Had not their form touched by an English wit.
There like a rich, and golden pyramid,
Borne up by statues, shall I rear your head,
Above your under-carved ornaments,
And show, how, to the life, my soul presents
Your form impressed there: not with tickling rhymes,
Or commonplaces, filched, that take these times,
But high, and noble matter, such as flies
From brains entranced, and filled with ecstasies;
Moods, which the godlike Sidney oft did prove,
And your brave friend, and mine so well did love.
Who wheresoe'er he be, on what dear coast,
Now thinking on you, though to England lost,
For that firm grace he holds in you regard,
I, that am grateful for him, have prepared
This hasty sacrifice, wherein I rear
A vow as new, and ominous as the year,
Before his swift and circled race be run,
My best of wishes, may you bear a son.





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