14 November 2013

Poetry Thursday - a commendation by Ben Jonson

The photo is of a section of the artwork at Charing Cross underground station (Bakerloo line southbound). It shows the Droeshout engraving on the title page of the First Folio - the 1623 collection of Shakespeare's plays, published seven years after his death.

The poem is by fellow playwright Ben Jonson:

To the Reader.
This Figure, that thou here seest put,
It was for gentle Shakespeare cut,
Wherein the Graver had a strife
with Nature, to out-doo the life :
O, could he but have drawne his wit
As well in brasse, as he hath hit
His face; the Print would then surpasse
All, that was ever writ in brasse.
But, since he cannot, Reader, looke
Not on his Picture, but his Booke.

Ben Jonson (1572-1637) is best known for his play Volpone, which satirises the merchant classes. At the age of 45, he set out from London for Scotland, the home of his ancestors. He made the journey entirely by foot, in spite of dissuasion from Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), who "said to him he loved not to see poesy go on other feet than poetical dactyls and spond├Žus." 

Jonson was buried in Westminster Abbey, under a plain slab on which was later written "O Rare Ben Jonson!".

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