Oh Do Not Wanton with Those Eyes

Ben Jonson

‘Oh Do Not Wanton with Those Eyes’ by Ben Jonson is a short, interesting poem in which one person describes the effect another person’s eyes have on them. They suggest this person should avoid showing certain emotions, so they aren’t impacted.

Ben Jonson

Nationality: England

Ben Jonson was an English poet and playwright who had an important influence on English poetry.

He is remembered for popularizing the comedy of humors.

Key Poem Information

Central Message: One person's emotions and impact someone else

Themes: Relationships

Speaker: Unknown

Emotions Evoked: Anxiety

Poetic Form: Quatrain

Time Period: 17th Century

This is a lesser known Ben Jonson poem but one that still delivers an important impact on the reader.

The poem is only three stanzas long and uses a similar line style in each. The stanzas consist of two different requests and focus on two different emotions, like lust and shame or anger and kindness. Each, for a specific reason, is hard for the speaker to see in the other person’s eyes. 

Oh Do Not Wanton with Those Eyes
Ben Jonson

O, Do not wanton with those eyes,—Lest I be sick with seeing;Nor cast them down, but let them rise,—Lest shame destroy their being.

O, be not angry with those fires,—For then their threats will kill me;Nor look too kind on my desires,—For then my hopes will spill me.

O, do not steep them in thy tears,—For so will sorrow slay me;Nor spread them as distract with fears;—Mine own enough betray me.
Oh Do Not Wanton with Those Eyes by Ben Jonson


Summary 

‘Oh Do Not Wanton with Those Eyes’ by Ben Jonson is about the power of one person’s eyes over another. 

In the first stanza of the poem, the speaker tells someone, likely a woman, to control her eyes. She should not “wanton” with them or cast them down. She should let them rise or hold herself with confidence for fear of shame. The speaker goes on, saying that she also should avoid looking upon the speaker too angrily or too kindly; he doesn’t like the outcome of either. Finally, he says, she should avoid crying or showing fear with her eyes. 

Structure and Form 

‘Oh Do Not Wanton with Those Eyes’ by Ben Jonson is a short, three-stanza poem that is divided into quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABAB; changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. The poet uses numerous literary devices, despite the poem’s short length, that provides it with structure. This includes the repetition of his address to his listener, that is always focused on the same thing—her eyes. 

Literary Devices 

In this poem, the poet makes use of a few literary devices. These include: 

  • Parallelism: the use of the same line structure. For example, “—Lest I be sick with seeing;” and “—Lest shame destroy their being.”
  • Sibilance: the repetition of the same “s” sound. For example, “sick with seeing.” 
  • Consonance: the repetition of the same consonant sound in multiple words. For example, “will kill” in stanza two.


Detailed Analysis 

Stanza One 

O, Do not wanton with those eyes,

—Lest I be sick with seeing;

Nor cast them down, but let them rise,

—Lest shame destroy their being.

In the first lines of this poem, the speaker asks someone, an unknown listener to whom he’s close, to “not wanton with those eyes.” Although somewhat confusing, he’s effetely asking her not to show lust in her eyes or try to seduce him with him. He doesn’t feel like this is the right thing for her to do, and it might make him “sick” or turn him off of her. 

He has a certain desire to avoid particular expressions on this person’s face, including seeing her with downcast eyes. This would lead to shame, something that could destroy someone. She should keep her eyes strong but within certain parameters. 

Stanza Two 

O, be not angry with those fires,

—For then their threats will kill me;

Nor look too kind on my desires,

—For then my hopes will spill me.

In the next stanza, the speaker says that she should also avoid showing anger in her eyes. He describes this as “those fires.” When she does this, he feels threatened, as those her eyes could kill him. This is another emotion he doesn’t want to experience when he’s around her. 

The second half of the stanza tells the woman that she should be too kind to the speaker or give in to all of his desires. It’s important for someone to be disappointed all the time, as too much hope and satisfaction are bad as well. 

Stanza Three 

O, do not steep them in thy tears,

—For so will sorrow slay me;

Nor spread them as distract with fears;

—Mine own enough betray me.

In the final stanza, the speaker tells the woman not to cry. If her eyes are steeped (or filled) with tears, he, too, is going to feel the same sorrow. He’ll be slain by it or overcome by her sadness. The same kind of thing is going to happen if she shows fear in her eyes. This will overwhelm him as he already has enough of his own fears to deal with. 

There is far more to this poem than is revealed in just these lines, and it requires that readers do some digging or inferring in order to figure out (or guess at) what Ben Jonson, or the persona he’s using, is getting at. 

FAQs

What is the meaning of ‘Oh Do Not Wanton with Those Eyes?

The meaning is that one person’s emotions, or whether or not they show them, can affect another. In this case, the speaker makes demands of another person, asking them to avoid showing fear, lust, sadness, and more. 

What is the tone of ‘Oh Do Not Wanton with Those Eyes?

The tone is concerned and demanding. The poem lists demands aimed at one person, likely a woman. It is based on the speaker’s concern that he’s going to experience something that he doesn’t want to. 

What is ‘Oh Do Not Wanton with Those Eyes’ about? 

This Jonson poem is about one person’s concerns about/for another person’s emotions/eyes (or at least whether or not they show these emotions). 


Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Ben Jonson poems. For example: 

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About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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