Celebrating National Poetry Month.

A weekly poem, read by the author.
April 13 2004 11:18 AM

An Ode. To Himselfe

Slate is observing Poetry Month—but expressing some reservations about the idea of Poetry Month—by printing poems that gripe about poetry or are otherwise negative about some aspect of poets or poetry. Here is the 17th-century poet Ben Jonson, telling himself to ignore the stupid pricks and just do his work.

Despite the poop of chattering magpies, and although little songs may impress the greedy fry, those gaping baby fishes—says Jonson to himself—he should be bold and ambitious, like Japhet's son Prometheus. He at least half-convinces himself to "sing high and aloofe."

Listen to Robert Pinsky reading this poem.

AN ODE. TO HIMSELFE

By Ben Jonson

Where do'st thou carelesse lie
  Buried in ease and sloth?
Knowledge, that sleepes, doth die;
And this Securitie,
  It is the common Moath,
That eats on wits, and Arts, and oft destroyes them both.

Are all th'Aonian springs
  Dri'd up? lies Thespia waste?
Doth Clarius' Harp want strings,
That not a Nymph now sings!
  Or droop they as disgrac't,
To see their Seats and Bowers by chattring Pies defac't?

If hence thy silence be,
  As 'tis too just a cause;
Let this thought quicken thee,
Minds that are great and free,
  Should not on fortune pause,
'Tis crowne enough to vertue still, her owne applause.

What though the greedie Frie
  Be taken with false Bayte
Of worded Balladrie,
And thinke it Poesie?
  They die with their conceits,
And only pitious scorne, upon their folly waits.

Then take in hand thy Lyre,
  Strike in thy proper straine,
With Japhet's line, aspire
Sol's Chariot for new fire,
  To give the world again:
Who aided him, will thee, the issue of Jove's brain.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

The GOP Senate Candidate in Iowa Doesn’t Want Voters to Know Just How Conservative She Really Is

Does Your Child Have “Sluggish Cognitive Tempo”? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

The Supreme Court, Throughout Its History, Has Been a Massive Disappointment

Why Indians in America Are Mad for India’s New Prime Minister

Damned Spot

Now Stare. Don’t Stop.

The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD

The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 5:19 PM Social Outcasts Republican candidates are retreating from debates on abortion, gay marriage, and contraception.
  Business
Building a Better Workplace
Sept. 30 2014 1:16 PM You Deserve a Pre-cation The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.
  Life
Education
Sept. 30 2014 1:48 PM Thrashed Florida State’s new president is underqualified and mistrusted. But here’s how he can turn it around.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 4:45 PM Steven Soderbergh Is Doing Some Next-Level Work on The Knick
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 4:59 PM China’s Not the Problem With Carbon Emissions. We Are.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath the Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.