Slow, Slow, Fresh Fount by Ben Jonson

‘Slow, Slow, Fresh Fount’ is part of Ben Jonson’s play, Cynthia’s Revels. Cynthia, the Greek goddess Artemis, brings together several characters for a meeting in the valley of Gargaphia. One of the main characters of the story, Echo is invited to sing a song. She sings the lines that make up the text of ‘Slow, Slow, Fresh Fount’ after finding out that Narcissus, the vain man that she was in love with, has died. 

When she first confessed her love to him, she was heartbroken by his rejection. Rather than love her, he falls in love with his own reflection which eventually leads to his death. Narcissus stares at himself for so long in the pool of water that he dies. The myth adds that it was on this spot that the first daffodil flower bloomed. It is also known as a narcissus. 

 

Summary of Slow, Slow, Fresh Fount 

‘Slow, Slow, Fresh Fount’ by Ben Jonson is a beautiful, dark poem that expresses the emotions of a speaker who has lost the person she loves.

Throughout this poem the speaker addresses his various natural elements around her, telling them to mourn along with her and create the appropriate rhythm for her tears. She can see in the flowers, springs, and various other natural elements the markers of her own mourning. She knows that the grief she’s experiencing is going to run on for a long time. It will progress “drop” by “drop”.

 

Structure of Slow, Slow, Fresh Fount

Slow, Slow, Fresh Fount’ by Ben Jonson is an eleven line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines follow a rhyme scheme of ABABCCCDDED and makes use, mostly, of iambic pentameter. The latter is a metrical pattern that refers to the number of beats, and the location of the stresses, per line. In this case, each line contains five sets of two beats. The first of these is unstressed and the second is stressed. 

But, there are moments in this poem in which this specific pattern does not apply. For example, the first line of the poem that is made up of spondees, or two stressed syllables paired together. The fourth metrical foot of this line is also different, it is a pyrrhic, the opposite of a spondee. This means that it contains two unstressed beats (“with my”). 

 

Literary Devices in Slow, Slow, Fresh Font

Jonson makes use of several literary devices in ‘Slow, Slow, Fresh Font’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, simile, and apostrophe. The first, alliteration,  occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “fresh fount” in line one and “Woe weeps” in line four. 

Apostrophe is an arrangement of words addressing someone, something, or creature, that does not exist, or is not present, in the poem’s immediate setting. The exclamation, “Oh,” is often used at the beginning of the phrase. The person is spoken to as though they can hear and understand the speaker’s words. There are several examples in this poem. The technique appears when the speaker addresses the spring, the flowers, and grief. 

A simile is a comparison between two unlike things that uses the words “like” or “as”. A poet uses this kind of figurative language to say that one thing is similar to another, not like metaphor, that it “is” another. There is a good example in the last lines when the speaker describes how she could be “Like melting snow upon some craggy hill”. 

 

Analysis of Slow, Slow, Fresh Fount

Lines 1-4 

Slow, slow, fresh fount, keep time with my salt tears; 

Yet slower, yet, O faintly, gentle springs! 

List to the heavy part the music bears, 

Woe weeps out her division, when she sings. 

In the first lines of this poem the speaker talks directly to a “fount,” or spring, an example of apostrophe. This is a source of water, presumably the one at which Narcissus died. The speaker, whose context informs the reader is Echo, ask the fount to “keep time with [her] salt tears“. It should rhythmically drip water at the same pace as the speaker cries. 

She’s mourning the loss in front of the gentle springs. They are “faintly“ making noise, but despite this fact, they are not moving quite slow enough for the speaker. She asks them to slow down even more. 

Echo is truly heartbroken and the next lines refer to “Woe“. The poet personifies “Woe“ as a force that accompanies Echo in her morning. Sadness has the ability to sing, just like the speaker does.

 

Lines 5-7 

Droop herbs and flowers; 

Fall grief in showers; 

Our beauties are not ours. 

The poet makes use of apostrophe again in the next lines of Slow, Slow, Fresh Fount as the speaker addresses herbs and flowers. She tells “grief” to fall “in showers”. This is quite similar to her request for the springs to drip to the beat of her tears and for Woe to sing along with her and her mourning. All of these natural images become symbols for the speaker’s grief. She transmutes her feelings onto them by describing them as drooping and morning.

Lines seven asserts that the beauty that she has, and that the flowers and not all other natural images have do not belong to them. The beauty is temporary, something that they have access to for a period of time before it disappears. In this case, the beauty she is referring to is the man she loves, Narcissus. He does not belong to her any longer.

 

Lines 8-11 

O, I could still, 

Like melting snow upon some craggy hill, 

Drop, drop, drop, drop, 

Since nature’s pride is now a withered daffodil. 

In the final four lines of the poem the speaker, Echo, describes again how depressed she is. “Natures pride” has become “a withered daffodil”. The daffodil is an obvious symbol for Narcissus, see the introduction for more.

A reader should also take note of the use of repetition in the tenth line of the poem. The use and reuse of the word “drop” has multiple implications. It refers back to the wilting and drooping of the flowers, the dripping of the water in the spring, the flowing of tears, and inevitably, death.  Grief is a slow process that progresses drop by drop. This is how Echo is mourning Narcissus.

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