A Fit of Rhyme against Rhyme

Original Text: 
Ben Jonson, The workes of Benjamin Jonson (London: R. Bishop, sold by A. Crooke, 1640). STC 14754. stc Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto). Also British Library copy as microfilmed in English Books 1475-1640. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms. P & R 14754 * 20250.
2That expresseth but by fits
4Spoiling senses of their treasure,
5Cozening judgment with a measure,
6      But false weight;
7Wresting words from their true calling,
8Propping verse for fear of falling
9      To the ground;
10Jointing syllabes, drowning letters,
11Fast'ning vowels as with fetters
12      They were bound!
13Soon as lazy thou wert known,
14All good poetry hence was flown,
15      And art banish'd.
16For a thousand years together
17All Parnassus' green did wither,
18      And wit vanish'd.
19Pegasus did fly away,
21      But bewail'd
22So to see the fountain dry,
23And Apollo's music die,
24      All light failed!
25Starveling rhymes did fill the stage;
26Not a poet in an age
27      Worth crowning;
28Not a work deserving bays,
29Not a line deserving praise,
30      Pallas frowning;
31Greek was free from rhyme's infection,
32Happy Greek by this protection
33      Was not spoiled.
35Is not yet free from rhyme's wrongs,
36      But rests foiled.
37Scarce the hill again doth flourish,
38Scarce the world a wit doth nourish
39      To restore
40Phœbus to his crown again,
41And the Muses to their brain,
42      As before.
43Vulgar languages that want
44Words and sweetness, and be scant
45      Of true measure,
46Tyrant rhyme hath so abused,
47That they long since have refused
49He that first invented thee,
50May his joints tormented be,
51      Cramp'd forever.
52Still may syllabes jar with time,
53Still may reason war with rhyme,
54      Resting never.
55May his sense when it would meet
56The cold tumor in his feet,
57      Grow unsounder;
58And his title be long fool,
59That in rearing such a school
60        Was the founder.


1] Works, 1640. As the title suggests, the lavish use of rhyme in the poem is satirical; Jonson's practice shows that he favoured rhyme in English. The argument for unrhymed and quantitative, against rhymed and accented verse was carried on with some vehemence even in the early seventeenth century. In 1602, Thomas Campion wrote a treatise protesting against the use of rhyme and accent; this was answered by Samuel Daniel, and Jonson told Drummond of Hawthornden that he had written a discourse "both against Campion and Daniel"--it has not survived. Back to Line
3] conceit: conception, idea. Back to Line
20] wells: of Hippocrene and Aganippe on Mount Helicon, sacred to the Muses. Back to Line
34] The practice of rhyming Latin verses, unknown to the classical Latin poets, was very prevalent in the Middle Ages and, in spite of humanistic protest, had continued even through the Renaissance. Back to Line
48] cæsure: caesura. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
F. D. Hoeniger
RPO Edition: 
3RP 1.160.