My Picture Left In Scotland

Ben Jonson (1619, 1640-1641) Although historians do not know the identity of the woman depicted by Ben Jonson in his poem "My Picture Left in Scotland," they feel confident he wrote it after having visited his friend and fellow poet William Drummond. It holds the ninth position in the group of 18 poems constituting The Underwood. Jonson does more than rue his age and soft physique as impediments to a relationship with the apparently desirable female. He also demonstrates in some instances through rhythm and format his topic as he writes about it.

The poem opens with a speaker speculating that "I now think Love is rather deaf than blind." He will spend 16 lines supporting his theory, finally returning to it in the poem's last line. He bases this theory on the fact that a mysterious "she" slighted him and cast away his love. Jonson varies the poem's meter, imitating the speaker's feeling off balance, or out of order:

For else it could not be That she

Whom I adore so much should so slight me

And cast my love behind.

Jonson skillfully challenges the reader as he moves from the iambic pentameter of the first line, into iambic trimeter in line 2, dimeter in line 3, and back to iambic pentameter in line 4. Despite the fluctuating rhythm, alliteration incorporated through the repeated s sound advances the reader swiftly through the lines. The speaker then expresses confidence in his sweet language and continues:

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 these lines Jonson most clearly reflects the topic of poetry writing. He uses the term close to mean "cadence," or meter, "feet," to reflect the line unit containing one stressed syllable accompanied by one to two unstressed syllables, and the reference to a young man sitting under Apollo's tree to indicate a young poet. The fact that the younger poet sits in shadow reflects the speaker's attitude that his art not only equals, but overshadows that of the immature and unaccomplished youth.

Jonson inserts white space after his 10th line, after which he includes an additional eight lines. He reflects upon his "conscious fears / That fly my thoughts between," stating that although his thoughts remain rational, they are interrupted by irrational emotion, his fears. Those fears inform him that she has observed "My hundreds of gray hairs, / Told seven and forty years," and suddenly maturity becomes a liability. Jonson makes a pun on the word waste, writing, "Read so much waste as she cannot embrace / My mountain belly and my rocky face" as he emphasizes through imagery what she sees when she looks at the speaker. unfortunately his appearance proves of greater effect than his well-wrought words, and he concludes in the final line, "And all these through her eyes have stopped her ears." Jonson has moved full circle, reflecting on his opening line, "I now think love is rather deaf, than blind."

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