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

XII. EPISTLE TO 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 favors are asleep ;
While thus it buys great grace, and hunts poor fame ;
Runs between man and man ;  'tween dame, and dame ;
Solders crack'd 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.
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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 ingóts
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 :
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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,
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And now lie lost in their forgotten dust.
It is the Muse alone, can raise to heaven,
And at her strong arm's end, hold up, and even,
The souls she loves.  Those other glorious notes,
Inscribed in touch or marble, or the coats
Painted, or carv'd 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,
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Have beauty known, yet none so famous seen ?
Achilles was not first, that valiant was,
Or, in an army's head, that lock'd 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 lack'd the sacred pen could give
Like life unto them.  Who heav'd Hercules
Unto the stars, or the Tindarides ?
Who placed Jason's Argo in the sky,
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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 hath a better verser got,
Or poet, in the court-account, than I,
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And who doth me, though I not him, envý,
Yet for the timely favors 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, to 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,
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Shall thronging come, and boast the happy place
They hold in my strange poems, which, as yet,
Had not their form touch'd by an English wit.
There, like a rich and golden pyramed,
Borne up by statues, shall I rear your head
Above your under-carved ornaments,
And shew how to the life my soul presents
Your form imprest there :  not with tickling rhymes,
Or common-places, filch'd, that take these times,
But high and noble matter, such as flies
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From brains entranced, and fill'd with extasies ;
Moods, which the godlike Sidney oft did prove,
And your brave friend and mine so well did love.
Who, wheresoe'er he be —
The rest is lost.        
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Source:
Jonson, Ben.  The Works of Ben Jonson.
Boston: Phillips, Sampson, and Co., 1853. 805-806.


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