My Picture Left in Scotland by Ben Jonson

‘My Picture Left in Scotland’ by Ben Jonson is a humorous two stanza poem which is separated in one set of ten lines and one set of eight lines. The first set of lines follows a rhyming pattern of abbbacccbb while the second stanza follows a pattern of abacadda. 

Jonson has chosen to utilize the same rhyming end sounds over and over within his stanzas. This choice allows the poem to maintain a feeling of unity throughout its eighteen lines. A reader will come to expect the rhymes which are coming next and grow used to the sounds and feelings the poem evokes. 

One should also take note of the intentional indention utilized by Jonson. Whenever a line of verse is spaced in, rather than lined up exactly with the one which precedes it, it forces the reader’s eye to work harder. One must follow the path of the lines as the indent further and further, and decrease/increase in length. 


Summary of My Picture Left in Scotland

‘My Picture Left in Scotland’ by Ben Jonson is a humorous tale of rejection told from the perspective of a rejected would-be-lover. 

The poem begins with the speaker stating that he now believes that love is deaf rather than blind, as his sweet words could not have failed to woo the woman he loves. He knows he is close to God in his composition and simply cannot believe she was unmoved. 

The next section of the poem speaks on how he was “slight[ed]” by the woman he loves. He feels personally offended by the way she turned him down, as he truly loved and cared for her. This is a definite hit to his ego. He considers himself, at least in his words and poetic prowess, to be the greatest lover, speaker and writer. 

In the second half of the poem the speaker turns inward. He expresses his deepest fears regarding his own appears. He worries that his own physical appearance was what turned her off of him rather than his words. He speaks on his gray hair, large belly, and general aging appearance. 

In conclusion, he remains unable to accept that he is not as charming, smart, and attractive as he believes himself to be. Finally, he states that the woman he loves must have only seen his appearance, turning off her ears to his words. 


Analysis of My Picture Left in Scotland

Stanza One 

I now think love is rather deaf, than blind,

For else it could not be,

That she,

Whom I adore so much, should so slight me,

   And cast my love behind:

I’m sure my language was as sweet,

And every close did meet

In sentence of as subtle feet

As hath the youngest he,

That sits in shadow of Apollo’s tree.

In the first stanza of this poem the speaker is reminiscing on an interaction he had with a woman he loved. This entire piece is spoken in a lighthearted manner. The lines are meant humorously rather than sorrowfully or angrily. 

In the first lines makes the bold statement that love is deaf rather than blind. This alteration of the classic phrase, “love is blind,” is the first hint that the poem is going to approach the topics of love and attraction from a position of irony and humour. 

In the next lines he says he knows that love must be “deaf” as there is no other way that the woman he is pining after would turn him down. From just these few lines a reader is able to make an assumption about what the speaker tried to do to woo this woman and how it failed. The next lines add more detail to his failed advances. 

In the next few lines the speaker states that he “adores” this woman more than he can say. This fact only adds to his disbelief that she would ever turn him down. She did not only decline his advances though, she “slighted” him. The woman must have, in some fundamental way, offended the speaker. 

He continues on to state that he knows his words were “sweet” when they were spoken. He doesn’t understand how he could have failed in his attempts to gain her affection. The speaker’s words were as “sweet” as they could have been, and as grand as those which might be spoken beneath the apple tree of Apollo. They are glorious, god-like, and sweeping words.

The true breadth of the speaker’s ego is made clear. He sees himself as being close to God, especially when it comes to the words he is able to compose. 


Stanza Two 

Oh, but my conscious fears,

That fly my thoughts between,

Tell me that she hath seen

   My hundreds of gray hairs,

   Told seven and forty years,

   Read so much waist, as she cannot embrace

   My mountain belly and my rock face,

As all these, through her eyes, have stopt her ears

In the second half of the poem the speaker turns his attention for his object of affection to the physical details of his own body. He is considering his own looks and how those might have impacted the decision the woman made to turn him down. He is worried that his “conscious fears,” those self-consciousness thoughts which haunt him during his darkest moments, have been seen by the woman.

The woman has looked past the “sweet” words he speaks and to his less than pleasing visage. He describes himself as having “hundred of gray hairs” and of being aged “seven and forty years,” or forty-seven. He is not young, nor is his body in good shape. She looked at his waist and saw how much of it there was. The woman knew that she could not and did not want to “embrace / [His] mountain belly and rock face.” 

In the final lines the speaker concludes his thoughts by summarizing what he believes happened. He knows she looked through her eyes, saw his face and body, and “stopt her ears.” 

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