‘Song: to Celia’ by Ben Jonson is a beautiful love poem presenting the love the poet has for his beloved. Dejection in love was a major theme at that period when Jonson was writing this poem. It’s not that, it doesn’t have any appeal in the modern era. However, there is a saying the manifestation changes but the essence remains the same. A person’s feelings for whom he adores the most remain the same. Likewise, in Jonson’s “Song” there is a longing for his lady love. In the end, it proved to be unfruitful as the “rosy wreath”, sent as a gift of love, was returned to the poet.
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Summary of Song: to Celia
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.
Structure of Song: to Celia
‘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 that 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.
Themes in Song: to Celia
‘Song; to Celia’ by Ben Jonson is an interesting love poem that encompasses the theme of love. There are two important sub-theme under the major theme of love. One is the physicality of love and another is the spirituality of love. The first stanza presents the spiritual aspect of love that generates from the soul of the poetic persona, here the poet himself. The poet uses his eyes as a means of communication. It is only possible when two souls are internally connected by the bond of love. There is a divine aspect of love in the first stanza that decays in the next stanza of the poem.
In the second stanza, when the poet tries to indulge in the physicality of love, he gets dejected. The “rosy wreath” is nothing but a symbol representing this physical aspect. The poet tries to eternalize a thing that is prone to withering. Hence, in the end, the lady returned the gift but also sent an implicit message of rejection of such kind of union. For this reason, the poet again takes recourse to spiritual love as it sustains even if the lovers are physically far enough or not united.
Literary Devices in Song: to Celia
‘Song: to Celia’ by Ben Jonson presents several important literary devices throughout the text. In the first line itself, there is a metaphor. Here “eyes” represent something that intoxicates the soul. In another scenario, “eyes” build trust between a lover and his beloved. In the line, “And I’ll not look for wine”, the poet employs a literary device called litotes. The poet presents another metaphor in the word “thrust”. It refers to spiritual thirst or yearning. Likewise, there is a metaphor in the phrase, “drink divine”. The poet uses an allusion by using the phrase, “Jove’s nectar sup”.
In the next stanza, the poet uses a metonymy in the phrase, “rosy wreath”. It is a symbol of the physical aspect of love that is prone to be “withered”. In the last two lines, the poet uses a paradox. In reality, the wreath of roses didn’t smell like his beloved. But the poet can sense it through his mind. The poet refers to this smell of his ladylove, not as a physical sensation. It is mental and imaginative that can only be felt by a true lover.
Analysis of Song: to Celia
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 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.
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 the same.
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.
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.
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.
I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
Not so much honouring thee
As giving it a hope, that there
It could not withered be.
In the second stanza the speaker begins by describing how “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.
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.
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.