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Poem by Ben Jonson

An Elegy (Let me be what I am)

Let me be what I am : as Virgil cold,
As Horace fat, or as Anacreon old ;
No poet's verses yet did ever move,
Whose readers did not think he was in love.
Who shall forbid me then in rhyme to be
As light, and active as the youngest he
That from the Muses fountains doth endorse
His lines, and hourly sits the poet's horse ?
Put on my ivy garland, let me see
Who frowns, who jealous is, who taxeth me.
Fathers and husbands, I do claim a right
In all that is call'd lovely ; take my sight,
Sooner than my affection from the fair.
No face, no hand, proportion, line or air
Of beauty, but the muse hath interest in :
There is not worn that lace, purl, knot, or pin,
But is the poet's matter ; and he must,
When he is furious, love, although not lust.
Be then content, your daughters and your wives,
If they be fair and worth it, have their lives
Made longer by our praises ; or, if not,
Wish you had foul ones, and deformed got,
Curst in their cradles, or there chang'd by elves,
So to be sure you do enjoy, yourselves.
Yet keep those up in sackcloth too, or leather,
For silk will draw some sneaking songster thither.
It is a rhyming age, and verses swarm
At every stall ;  the city cap's a charm.
    But I who live, and have lived twenty year,
Where I may handle silk as free, and near,
As any mercer, or the whale-bone man,
That quilts those bodies I have leave to span ;
Have eaten with the beauties, and the wits,
And braveries of court, and felt their fits
Of love and hate ;  and came so nigh to know
Whether their faces were their own or no :
It is not likely I should now look down
Upon a velvet petticoat, or a gown,
Whose like I have known the tailor's wife put on,
To do her husband's rites in, ere 'twere gone
Home to the customer :  his letchery
Being the best clothes still to pre-occupy.
Put a coach-mare in tissue, must I horse
Her presently ?  or leap thy wife, of force,
When by thy sordid bounty she hath on
A gown of what was the comparison ?
So I might doat upon thy chairs and stools,
That are like cloth'd :  must I be of those fools
Of race accounted, that no passion have,
But when thy wife, as thou conceiv'st, is brave ?
Then ope thy wardrobe, think me that poor groom
That, from the footman, when he was become
An officer there, did make most solemn love
To every petticoat he brush'd, and glove
He did lay up ;  and would adore the shoe
Or slipper was left off, and kiss it too ;
Court every hanging gown, and after that
Lift up some one, and do Ч I'll tell not what.
Thou didst tell me, and wert o'erjoyed to peep
In at a hole, and see these actions creep
From the poor wretch, which though he plaid in prose, 
He would have done in verse, with any of those
Wrung on the withers by Lord Love's despite,
Had he the faculty to read and write !
    Such songsters there are store of ;  witness he
That chanc'd the lace, laid on a smock, to see,
And straightway spent a sonnet ;  with that other
That, in pure madrigal, unto his mother
Commended the French hood and scarlet gown
The lady may'ress pass'd in through the town,
Unto the Spittle sermon.   O what strange
Variety of silks were on the Exchange !
Or in Moor-fields, this other night, sings one !
Another answers, 'las !  those silks are none,
In smiling l' envoy, as he would deride
Any comparison had with his Cheapside ;
And vouches both the pageant and the day,
When not the shops, but windows do display
The stuffs, the velvets, plushes, fringes, lace,
And all the original riots of the place.
Let the poor fools enjoy their follies, love
A goat in velvet ;  or some block could move
Under that cover, an old midwife's hat !
Or a close-stool so cased ;  or any fat
Bawd, in a velvet scabbard !   I envý
None of their pleasures ;  nor will I ask thee why
Thou art jealous of thy wife's or daughter's case ;
More than of either's manners, wit, or face ! 

Ben Jonson

Ben Jonson's other poems:
  1. Epitaph on the Countess of Pembroke
  2. To Censorious Courtling
  3. To Francis Beaumont
  4. Begging Another
  5. Porth Ceiriad Bay

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