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

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories to the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
Quora
Oct. 22 2014 9:51 AM What Was It Like to Work at NASA During the Challenger and Columbia Disasters?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 22 2014 6:00 AM Why It’s OK to Ask People What They Do David Plotz talks to two junior staffers about the lessons of Working.
  Arts
Culturebox
Oct. 22 2014 9:54 AM The Simpsons World App Is Finally Here I feel like a kid in some kind of store.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 8:43 AM Thunderstruck: Rock Out With Mother Nature’s Evil Side
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 9:39 AM Gertjie and Lammie, a Magical (and Bizarre) Friendship
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.