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About this poet

The poet, essayist, and playwright Ben Jonson was born on June 11, 1572 in London, England. His father, a minister, died shortly before his birth and his mother remarried a bricklayer.

Jonson was raised in Westminster and attended St. Martin's parish school and Westminster School, where he came under the influence of the classical scholar William Camden. He left the Westminster school in 1589, worked briefly in his stepfather's trade as a bricklayer, then served in the military at Flanders, before working as an actor and playwright for Philip Henslowe's theater company.

In 1594, Jonson married Anne Lewis and began to work as an actor and playwright. Jonson and Lewis had at least two children, but little else is known of their marriage.

In 1598, Jonson wrote what is considered his first great play, Every Man in His Humor. In a 1616 production, William Shakespeare acted in one of the lead roles. Shortly after the play opened, Jonson killed Gabriel Spencer in a duel and was tried for murder. He was released by pleading "benefit of clergy" (i.e., by proving he could read and write in Latin, he was allowed to face a more lenient court). He spent only a few weeks in prison, but shortly after his release he was again arrested for failing to pay an actor.

Under King James I, Jonson received royal favor and patronage. Over the next fifteen years many of his most famous satirical plays, including Volpone (1606) and The Alchemist (1610), were produced for the London stage. In 1616, he was granted a substantial pension of 100 marks a year, and is often identified as England's first Poet Laureate.

His circle of admirers and friends, who called themselves the "Tribe of Ben," met regularly at the Mermaid Tavern and later at the Devil's Head. Among his followers were nobles such as the Duke and Duchess of Newcastle as well as writers including Robert Herrick, Richard Lovelace, Sir John Suckling, James Howell, and Thomas Carew.

Jonson was also friends with many of the writers of his day, and many of his most well-known poems include tributes to friends such as Shakespeare, John Donne, and Francis Bacon.

Ben Jonson died in Westminster on August 8, 1637. A tremendous crowd of mourners attended his burial at Westminster Abbey. He is regarded as one of the major dramatists and poets of the seventeenth century.

Third Charm from Masque of Queens

Ben Jonson, 1572 - 1637
The owl is abroad, the bat, and the toad,
     And so is the cat-a-mountain,
The ant and the mole sit both in a hole,
     And the frog peeps out o' the fountain;
The dogs they do bay, and the timbrels play,
     The spindle is now a turning;
The moon it is red, and the stars are fled,
     But all the sky is a-burning:

The ditch is made, and our nails the spade,
With pictures full, of wax and of wool;
Their livers I stick, with needles quick;
There lacks but the blood, to make up the flood.
     Quickly, Dame, then bring your part in,
     Spur, spur upon little Martin,
     Merrily, merrily, make him fail,
     A worm in his mouth, and a thorn in his tail,
     Fire above, and fire below,
     With a whip in your hand, to make him go.

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Ben Jonson

Ben Jonson

Born in 1572, Ben Jonson is regarded as one of the major dramatists and poets of the seventeenth century

by this poet

poem
Poor Poet-Ape, that would be thought our chief, 
   Whose works are e'en the frippery of wit, 
From brokage is become so bold a thief, 
   As we, the robb'd, leave rage, and pity it. 
At first he made low shifts, would pick and glean, 
   Buy the reversion of old plays;  now grown 
To a little wealth, and credit
poem
Let it not your wonder move, 
Less your laughter, that I love.
Though I now write fifty years,
I have had, and have, my peers.
Poets, though divine, are men;
Some have loved as old again.
And it is not always face, 
Clothes, or fortune gives the grace,
Or the feature, or the youth;
But the language and the truth
poem
Drinke to me, onely, with thine eyes,
    And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kisse but in the cup,
    And Ile not looke for wine.
The thirst, that from the soule doth rise,
    Doth aske a drinke divine:
But might I of Jove's Nectar sup,
    I would not change for thine.
I sent thee, late, a rosie