An Ode to Himself

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.
2Buried in ease and sloth?
3Knowledge that sleeps doth die;
4And this security,
5It is the common moth
6That eats on wits and arts, and oft destroys them both.
10That not a nymph now sings?
11Or droop they as disgrac'd,
13If hence thy silence be,
14As 'tis too just a cause,
15Let this thought quicken thee:
16Minds that are great and free
17Should not on fortune pause;
18'Tis crown enough to virtue still, her own applause.
19What though the greedy fry
20Be taken with false baites
22And think it poesy?
23They die with their conceits,
24And only piteous scorn upon their folly waits.
25Then take in hand thy lyre,
26Strike in thy proper strain,
28Sol's chariot for new fire,
29To give the world again;
31And since our dainty age
32Cannot endure reproof,
33Make not thyself a page
34To that strumpet, the stage,
35But sing high and aloof,
36Safe from the wolf's black jaw and the dull ass's hoof.


1] Works, 1640. The contempt for the stage expressed in the last stanza suggests a fairly late date, ca. 1630, when Jonson became exasperated with the negative response to his plays in the theatre. Back to Line
7] Aonian springs: the fountains of poetry. Aonia is a part of Boeotia which includes Mount Helicon and the fountains of Aganippe and Hippocrene, sacred to the Muses. Back to Line
8] Thespia: the realm of tragedy; derived from Thespis, the Greek poet. Back to Line
9] Clarius: Apollo, god of poetry and music, named from his temple and oracle at Claros. SeeÆneid, III, 360. Back to Line
12] pies: magpies; a term of contempt. Back to Line
21] worded balladry. Jonson is probably not referring to genuine and anonymous ballads here, but to broadside ballads, extremely popular among the middle class. Back to Line
27] Japhet: Prometheus, son of Japetus.
aspire: inspire. Back to Line
30] the issue of Jove's brain: Minerva. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
F. D. Hoeniger
RPO Edition: 
3RP 1.159.