On Shakespeare 1630 John Milton

(1632) Despite the date included in its title, "On Shakespeare, 1630" by John Milton did not appear in print until 1632. A sonnet, it was printed beneath the title An Epitaph on the Admirable Dramatic Poet W. Shakespear in the Second Folio of William Shakespeare's plays. As do other tribute poems, it declares its subject unmatched by mortal efforts and eternal in nature. Milton focuses on the image of stone monuments, probably with the Stratford Monument to Shakespeare in mind.

The sonnet's first two lines question the need of Shakespeare's "honor'd bones" to be represented in "piled Stones," while lines 3 and 4 continue the inquiry, wondering that "his hallow'd relics" would "be hid / Under a Star-ypointing Pyramid." The speaker makes clear that for poetry's "great heir of Fame" no "such weak witness" as a stone monument is needed. Milton adopts a traditional sentiment in line 8 to note the poet had built himself "a livelong Monument" in his poetry, or "thy easy numbers." The lines have made "deep impressions" in the hearts of their readers, suggesting that Shakespeare is the engraver. The allusion becomes fact in lines 11 through 12, when Milton writes, "Then thou our fancy of itself bereaving, / Dost make us Marble with too much conceiving," perhaps suggesting that with Shakespeare went man's ability to imagine, leaving him no more creative than cold hard stone. However, the clearer suggestion is that Shakespeare's readers will become his last resting place, as the sonnet closes, "And so Sepulcher'd in such pomp dost lie, / That Kings for such a Tomb would wish to die." Even the most powerful ruler would be jealous of one laid to rest in the hearts of his admirers.

"ON SOMETHING, THAT WALKS SOMEWHERE" Ben Jonson (1616) Known for his biting wit, Ben Jonson showcases his talent for sarcasm in his poem "On Something, That Walks Somewhere." The fact that the speaker will not deign to identify the "Something" of which he writes indicates from the title that he


holds his subject in great disdain. As did most poets, Jonson depended upon the aristocracy for patronage and yet did not hold many noblemen in high esteem. Thus he had to negotiate the tension between the need for court approval and his low opinion of many of the privileged who supported his work. The brief poem at only eight lines of rhyming couplets qualifies as an epigram, one of several easily distinguished groups into which Jonson's poetry fell. Traditionally the epigram provided a vehicle for personal attack, which is the manner in which Jonson uses it here, although he also included in his collected Works of 1616 epigrams of a positive tone.

Jonson immediately diminishes his subject's importance by labeling the courtier an it and using a tone of derision in describing its clothing as brave, or fine enough to pass: "At court I met it, in clothes brave enough / to be a courtier." However, he finishes his second line and uses enjambment to move into the third, by describing the courtier's looks as "grave enough / To seem a statesman," after which he inserts a colon, causing the reader to pause as the speaker seems to pause to consider his subject. He continues the third line and moves into the fourth, only to stop again midline, then add a brief sentence describing the speaker's reaction: "as I near it came, / It made me a great face. I asked the name." Here the speaker gives the it under consideration the chance to distinguish itself by assuming a specific identity. In what follows, Jonson constructs a brief scene, calling on his experience as a playwright to use rhythm as timing for the interchange. The fifth line through the first half of the final eighth line includes dramatic dialogue, as the courtier replies:

"A lord," it cried, "buried in flesh and blood,

And such from whom let no man hope least good,

For I will do none; and as little ill,

For I will dare none."

Jonson depicts the courtier as afraid to praise or attack, his spirit "buried" within his body. The repetition of the term none emphasizes the lack of identity of the courtier, who seems to represent a type for the poet. The eighth line concludes with the simple statement

"Good lord, walk dead still." Not couched as dialogue, that line indicates the speaker's thought in a paradox, as he silently bids the lord to continue his walk, or life, lacking his own self-identity, an existence that compares to death. Jonson suggests, perhaps, that any group such as courtiers owe their existence to others, as they depended entirely upon the favor of the monarch for their daily livelihoods. His harsh judgment of such men exhibits irony in light of the fact that poets remained almost as dependent as courtiers on the favor of others. Of course artists live through their work, while courtiers had little to show for their time spent on earth.

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