Song: to Celia by Ben Jonson

‘Song: to Celia’ by Ben Jonson is a two stanza poem that is separated into sets of eight lines. This piece follows a consistent and structured pattern of rhyme which conforms to the pattern of abcbabcb defeeefe. 

The choice to use this rhyme scheme allowed the poet to unite lines that are scattered in their indention and length. The repeated use of “-ee” as an ending has been utilized to emphasize lines four, five, and six in the second stanza. These lines are the climax of the speaker’s narrative and provide a fitting ending to the piece. 

Song: to Celia by Ben Jonson


Summary of Song: to Celia

Song: to Celia’ by Ben Jonson describes the deep love which exists between the speaker and his lover and how it transcends normal bounds.

The poem begins with the speaker suggesting that his lover “Drink to” him with only her eyes. He will reciprocate this act by, with his own eyes, pledging himself to her. This wordless communication is extremely intimate and is a suiting introduction to the dynamic which exists between the two. 

The poet is invested in comparing his love, and the indulgent way he participates in it, to drinking. He could find her love, if she placed it there, within a wine glass. In the last part of this stanza he says that the thirst he has for love could only be sated by the strongest, and most divine of drinks. 

In the second stanza, the speaker describes an interaction that he instigated. This situation is utilized as a perfect representation of how he sees his lover and how they communicate with one another. 

He sends her a “rosy wreath” and instead of keeping it, she sends it back to him after breathing on it. The speaker declares that the smell of the plant has been supplanted by the smells of his lover. 


Analysis of Song: to Celia 

Stanza One

Drink to me only with thine eyes,

And I will pledge with mine;

Or leave a kiss but in the cup,

And I’ll not look for wine.

The thirst that from the soul doth rise

Doth ask a drink divine;

But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,

I would not change for thine.

The first stanza of this piece begins with the speaker asking that his lover “Drink” to him with only her “eyes.” These first lines define the emotional depths of their partnership.

The speaker wants his lover to devote herself entirely to him and with her eyes, indulge in him as she would a drink. The next line describes what it is he will give back to her if she chooses to commit herself fully. He will “pledge” himself to her with his own eyes. This wordless communication is quite intimate. The poet is allowing the reader into the world of this speaker. 

Additionally, a reader should take note of the fact that the characters in the poem are not well-defined. The speaker’s emotions are on display but there are no lines devoted to who he is or who his lover is. This choice allows any type of reader to cast their own experiences onto the text. One will, ideally, be able to relate to the emotions the couple experiences. 

The speaker moves on from the idea of communicating through glances in the next lines as he tells his lover she is welcome to “leave a kiss…in the cup.” It is here that he will look for her, knowing full well there will be no wine to drink. The poet has chosen to connect the indulgence of drink with that of love. These two acts, ways of being, and emotional states are one and the same. 

In the following lines, he states the “thirst” for love which exists within the soul can only be quenched by a “drink divine.” It is only something like “Jove’s nectar,” or the drink of the gods, which could sate his thirst. In contrast to this statement, he says that if he could indulge in “nectar” that he would not change for “thine.” His emotions for his lover would not change.


Stanza Two 

I sent thee late a rosy wreath, 

Not so much honouring thee 

As giving it a hope, that there 

It could not withered be. 

But thou thereon didst only breathe, 

And sent’st it back to me; 

Since when it grows, and smells, I swear, 

Not of itself, but thee.

In the second stanza the speaker begins by describing how of “late,” or later, he sent his lover a “rosy wreath.” This was an action that was deeply thought through and meaningful to both of them. In the following lines, he describes why he made the choice to send her this gift and what he meant by it. 

The speaker chose the “wreath” as a gift not for his lover’s sake, but for that of the wreath. He professes his choice stemmed from a desire to give the wreath hope that it “could not withered be” in her presence. 

This hyperbolic scenario has a deeply romantic intention. He wants his lover to see how highly he regards her. It is as if she could stave off death in anything or anyone around her. She revitalizes everything near her. 

The speaker’s lover did not react to the wreathe as he expected. She did not keep it as a monument to their love but instead chose to send it back to him after breathing on it. She did this intentionally, knowing how he would be impacted by it. 

When he wreath came back to him, he smelled it and declared that it did not smell like it did before. It now smelled of “thee,” his lover. Through these depictions of their love the speaker is hoping to both flatter his lover and improve their relationship further. ‘Song: to Celia’ is a true love poem that is wholly dedicated to the promotion and continuation of a relationship.

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