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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

To the Memory of my Beloved Master, William Shakespeare

By Ben Jonson (1572–1637)

TO draw no envy, Shakespeare, on thy name,

Am I thus ample to thy book and fame;

While I confess thy writings to be such

As neither man nor Muse can praise too much.

’Tis true, and all men’s suffrage. But these ways

Were not the paths I meant unto thy praise:

For silliest ignorance on these may light,

Which, when it sounds at best, but echoes right;

Or blind affection, which doth ne’er advance

The truth, but gropes, and urgeth all by chance;

Or crafty malice might pretend this praise,

And think to ruin, where it seemed to raise.

These are, as some infamous bawd or whore

Should praise a matron: what could hurt her more?

But thou art proof against them, and indeed

Above the ill fortune of them, or the need.

I therefore will begin: Soul of the age!

The applause! delight! the wonder of our stage!

My SHAKESPEARE rise! I will not lodge thee by

Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lie

A little further off, to make thee room:

Thou art a monument without a tomb;

And art alive still, while thy book doth live,

And we have wits to read and praise to give.

That I not mix thee so, my brain excuses,

I mean with great, but disproportioned Muses;

For if I thought my judgment were of years,

I should commit thee surely with thy peers,

And tell how far thou didst our Lily outshine,

Or sporting Kyd, or Marlowe’s mighty line.

And though thou hadst small Latin and less Greek,

From thence to honor thee, I will not seek

For names: but call forth thundering Æschylus,

Euripides, and Sophocles to us,

Pacuvius, Accius, him of Cordoua dead,

To live again, to hear thy buskin tread,

And shake a stage; or when thy socks were on,

Leave thee alone for the comparison

Of all that insolent Greece or haughty Rome

Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come.

Triumph, my Britain! thou hast one to show,

To whom all scenes of Europe homage owe.

He was not of an age, but for all time!

And all the Muses still were in their prime

When, like Apollo, he came forth to warm

Our ears, or like a Mercury to charm!

Nature herself was proud of his designs,

And joyed to wear the dressing of his lines!

Which were so richly spun, and woven so fit,

As, since, she will vouchsafe no other wit.

The merry Greek, tart Aristophanes,

Neat Terence, witty Plautus, now not please;

But antiquated and deserted lie,

As they were not of nature’s family.

Yet must I not give nature all: thy art,

My gentle Shakespeare, must enjoy a part.

For though the poet’s matter nature be,

His art doth give the fashion; and that he

Who casts to write a living line, must sweat,

(Such as thine are) and strike the second heat

Upon the Muses’ anvil; turn the same,

And himself with it, that he thinks to fame:

Or for the laurel he may gain a scorn;

For a good poet’s made as well as born.

And such wert thou! Look how the father’s face

Lives in his issue: even so the race

Of Shakespeare’s mind and manners brightly shines

In his well turnèd and true filèd lines;

In each of which he seems to shake a lance,

As brandished at the eyes of ignorance.

Sweet Swan of Avon! what a sight it were

To see thee in our water yet appear,

And make those flights upon the banks of Thames

That so did take Eliza, and our James!

But stay: I see thee in the hemisphere

Advanced, and made a constellation there!

Shine forth, thou Star of poets, and with rage

Or influence, chide or cheer the drooping stage;

Which, since thy flight from hence, hath mourned like night,

And despairs day, but for thy volume’s light.