Ben Jonson
 
 
T  H  E     F  O  R  E  S  T .        
 

XI. EPODE.                  


Not to know vice at all, and keep true state,
                 Is virtue and not fate :
Next to that virtue, is to know vice well,
                 And her black spite expel,
Which to effect (since no breast is so sure,
                 Or safe, but she'll procure
Some way of entrance) we must plant a guard
                 Of thoughts to watch, and ward
At the eye and ear, the ports unto the mind,
                 That no strange, or unkind
Object arrive there, but the heart, our spy,
                 Give knowledge instantly,
To wakeful reason, our affections' king :
                 Who, in th' examining,
Will quickly taste the treason, and commit
                 Close, the close cause of it.
'Tis the securest policy we have,
                 To make our sense our slave.
But this true course is not embraced by many :
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                  By many !  scarce by any.
For either our affections do rebel,
                 Or else the sentinel,
That should ring larum to the heart, doth sleep ;
                 Or some great thought doth keep
Back the intelligence, and falsely swears,
                 They are base, and idle fears
Whereof the loyal conscience so complains,
                 Thus, by these subtile trains,
Do several passions invade the mind,
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                 And strike our reason blind,
Of which usurping rank, some have thought love
                 The first ; as prone to move
Most frequent tumults, horrors, and unrests,
                 In our enflamed breasts :
But this doth from the cloud of error grow,
                 Which thus we over-blow.
The thing they here call Love, is blind desire,
                 Arm'd with bow, shafts, and fire ;
Inconstant, like the sea, of whence 'tis born,
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                 Rough, swelling, like a storm :
With whom who sails, rides on the surge of fear,
                 And boils, as if he were
In a continual tempest.  Now, true love
                 No such effects doth prove ;
That is an essence far more gentle, fine,
                 Pure, perfect, nay divine ;
It is a golden chain let down from heaven,
                 Whose links are bright and even,
That falls like sleep on lovers, and combines
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                 The soft, and sweetest minds
In equal knots :  this bears no brands, nor darts,
                 To murder different hearts,
But in a calm, and god-like unity,
                 Preserves community.
O, who is he, that, in this peace, enjoys
                 The elixir of all joys ?
A form more fresh than are the Eden bowers,
                 And  lasting as her flowers :
Richer than Time, and as time's virtue rare
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                 Sober, as saddest care ;
A fixed thought, an eye untaught to glance :
                 Who, blest with such high chance
Would, at suggestion of a steep desire,
                 Cast himself from the spire
Of all his happiness ?   But soft :  I hear
                 Some vicious fool draw near,
That cries, we dream, and swears there's no such thing, 
                 As this chaste love we sing.
Peace, Luxury, thou art like one of those
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                 Who, being at sea, suppose,
Because they move, the continent doth so.
                 No, Vice, we let thee know,
Though thy wild thoughts with sparrows' wings do flie,
                 Turtles can chastly die ;
And yet (in this t' express ourselves more clear)
                 We do not number here
Such spirits as are only continent,
                 Because lust's means are spent :
Or those, who doubt the common mouth of fame,
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                 And for their place and name,
Cannot so safely sin : their chastity
                 Is mere necessity.
Nor mean we those, whom vows and conscience
                 Have fill'd with abstinence :
Though we acknowledge, who can so abstain,
                 Makes a most blessed gain.
He that for love of goodness hateth ill,
                 Is more crown-worthy still,
Than he, which for sin's penalty forbears ;
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                 His heart sins, though he fears.
But we propose a person like our Dove,
                 Graced with a Phoenix' love ;
A beauty of that clear and sparkling light,
                 Would make a day of night,
And turn the blackest sorrows to bright joys ;
                 Whose odorous breath destroys
All taste of bitterness, and makes the air
                 As sweet as she is fair.
A body so harmoniously composed,
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                 As if nature disclosed
All her best symmetry in that one feature !
                 O, so divine a creature,
Who could be false to ?  chiefly, when he knows
                 How only she bestows
The wealthy treasure of her love on him ;
                 Making his fortune swim
In the full flood of her admired perfection ?
                 What savage, brute affection,
Would not be fearful to offend a dame
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                 Of this excelling frame ?
Much more a noble, and right generous mind,
                 To virtuous moods inclined
That knows the weight of guilt ; he will refrain
                 From thoughts of such a strain,
And to his sense object this sentence ever,
                 "Man may securely sin, but safely never."
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Source:
Jonson, Ben.  The Works of Ben Jonson.
Boston: Phillips, Sampson, and Co., 1853. 804-805.


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