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About this poet

The poet, essayist, and playwright Ben Jonson was born on June 11, 1572 in London, England. His father, a minister, died shortly before his birth and his mother remarried a bricklayer.

Jonson was raised in Westminster and attended St. Martin's parish school and Westminster School, where he came under the influence of the classical scholar William Camden. He left the Westminster school in 1589, worked briefly in his stepfather's trade as a bricklayer, then served in the military at Flanders, before working as an actor and playwright for Philip Henslowe's theater company.

In 1594, Jonson married Anne Lewis and began to work as an actor and playwright. Jonson and Lewis had at least two children, but little else is known of their marriage.

In 1598, Jonson wrote what is considered his first great play, Every Man in His Humor. In a 1616 production, William Shakespeare acted in one of the lead roles. Shortly after the play opened, Jonson killed Gabriel Spencer in a duel and was tried for murder. He was released by pleading "benefit of clergy" (i.e., by proving he could read and write in Latin, he was allowed to face a more lenient court). He spent only a few weeks in prison, but shortly after his release he was again arrested for failing to pay an actor.

Under King James I, Jonson received royal favor and patronage. Over the next fifteen years many of his most famous satirical plays, including Volpone (1606) and The Alchemist (1610), were produced for the London stage. In 1616, he was granted a substantial pension of 100 marks a year, and is often identified as England's first Poet Laureate.

His circle of admirers and friends, who called themselves the "Tribe of Ben," met regularly at the Mermaid Tavern and later at the Devil's Head. Among his followers were nobles such as the Duke and Duchess of Newcastle as well as writers including Robert Herrick, Richard Lovelace, Sir John Suckling, James Howell, and Thomas Carew.

Jonson was also friends with many of the writers of his day, and many of his most well-known poems include tributes to friends such as Shakespeare, John Donne, and Francis Bacon.

Ben Jonson died in Westminster on August 8, 1637. A tremendous crowd of mourners attended his burial at Westminster Abbey. He is regarded as one of the major dramatists and poets of the seventeenth century.

Epigrams: On my First Son

Ben Jonson, 1572 - 1637
Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy; 
My sin was too much hope of thee, lov'd boy. 
Seven years tho' wert lent to me, and I thee pay, 
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day. 
O, could I lose all father now! For why 
Will man lament the state he should envy? 
To have so soon 'scap'd world's and flesh's rage, 
And if no other misery, yet age? 
Rest in soft peace, and, ask'd, say, "Here doth lie 
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry." 
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such, 
As what he loves may never like too much. 

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Ben Jonson

Ben Jonson

Born in 1572, Ben Jonson is regarded as one of the major dramatists and poets of the seventeenth century

by this poet

poem
Let it not your wonder move, 
Less your laughter, that I love.
Though I now write fifty years,
I have had, and have, my peers.
Poets, though divine, are men;
Some have loved as old again.
And it is not always face, 
Clothes, or fortune gives the grace,
Or the feature, or the youth;
But the language and the truth
poem
I sing the birth was born tonight,
The Author both of life and light;
    The angels so did sound it,
And like the ravished shepherds said,
Who saw the light, and were afraid,
    Yet searched, and true they found it.

The Son of God, the eternal King,
That did us all salvation bring,
    And freed the soul from
poem
Where dost thou careless lie
    Buried in ease and sloth?
Knowledge that sleeps, doth die
And this security,
    It is the common moth
That eats on wits and arts, and that destroys them both.

Are all the Aonian springs
    Dried up? lies Thespia waste?
Doth Clarius' harp want strings,
That not a nymph now