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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Fit of Rhyme against Rhyme

(Ben Jonson, unofficial poet laureate, 1619-1637)

Today we begin our series of poems by some of the poets laureate of Great Britain.

Ben Jonson (1572-1637) was a popular playwright and poet of the English Renaissance, famed among his contemporaries for his humorous and satirical dramas and his beautiful lyric poems. Appointed by James I, he served as court poet, or unofficial poet laureate, and also composed court masques or lavish musical spectacles, sometimes even putting on, during the intermission, comic anti-masques which parodied the major plot.

He was a bold and masterful writer, as we can see in the verse below, a clever contradiction that combines his ironic wit with his skill with words.


Rhyme, the rack of finest wits,
That expresseth but by fits
True conceit,
Spoiling senses of their treasure,
Cozening judgment with a measure,
But false weight;
Wresting words from their true calling,
Propping verse for fear of falling
To the ground;
Jointing syllables, drowning letters,
Fast’ning vowels as with fetters
They were bound!
Soon as lazy thou wert known,
All good poetry hence was flown,
And art banish’d.

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