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English Poetry I: From Chaucer to Gray.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Ben Jonson

156. Epode

NOT to know vice at all, and keep true state,

Is virtue, and not fate:

Next to that virtue is to know vice well,

And her black spite expel,

Which to effect (since no breast is so sure,

Or safe, but she’ll procure

Some way of entrance) we must plant a guard

Of thoughts to watch and ward

At th’eye and ear, the ports unto the mind,

That no strange or unkind

Object arrive there, but the heart, our spy,

Give knowledge instantly

To wakeful reason, our affections’ king:

Who, in th’ examining,

Will quickly taste the treason, and commit

Close, the close cause of it.

’Tis the securest policy we have,

To make our sense our slave.

But this true course is not embraced by many:

By many? scarce by any.

For either our affections do rebel,

Or else the sentinel,

That should ring larum to the heart, doth sleep:

Or some great thought doth keep

Back the intelligence, and falsely swears

They’re base and idle fears

Whereof the loyal conscience so complains.

Thus, by these subtle trains,

Do several passions invade the mind,

And strike our reason blind:

Of which usurping rank, some have thought love.

The first, as prone to move

Most frequent tumults, horrors, and unrests,

In our inflamèd breasts:

But this doth from the cloud of error grow,

Which thus we over-blow.

The thing they here call Love is blind Desire,

Armed with bow, shafts, and fire;

Inconstant, like the sea, of whence ’t is born,

Rough, swelling, like a storm;

With whom who sails, rides on the surge of fear,

And boils as if he were

In a continual tempest. Now, true Love

No such effects doth prove;

That is an essence far more gentle, fine,

Pure, perfect, nay, divine;

It is a golden chain let down from heaven,

Whose links are bright and even,

That falls like sleep on lovers, and combines

The soft and sweetest minds

In equal knots: this bears no brands nor darts,

To murther different hearts,

But in a calm and godlike unity

Preserves community.

O, who is he that in this peace enjoys

Th’ elixir of all joys?

A form more fresh than are the Eden bowers,

And lasting as her flowers:

Richer than Time, and as Time’s virtue rare:

Sober, as saddest care;

A fixèd thought, an eye untaught to glance:

Who, blest with such high chance,

Would, at suggestion of a steep desire,

Cast himself from the spire

Of all his happiness? But, soft, I hear

Some vicious fool draw near,

That cries we dream, and swears there’s no such thing

As this chaste love we sing.

Peace, Luxury, thou art like one of those

Who, being at sea, suppose,

Because they move, the continent doth so.

No, Vice, we let thee know,

Though thy wild thoughts with sparrows’ wings do fly,

Turtles can chastely die.

And yet (in this t’ express ourselves more clear)

We do not number here

Such spirits as are only continent

Because lust’s means are spent;

Or those who doubt the common mouth of fame,

And for their place and name

Cannot so safely sin. Their chastity

Is mere necessity.

Nor mean we those whom vows and conscience

Have filled with abstinence:

Though we acknowledge, who can so abstain

Makes a most blessèd gain;

He that for love of goodness hateth ill

Is more crown-worthy still

Than he, which for sin’s penalty forbears:

His heart sins, though he fears.

But we propose a person like our Dove,

Grac’d with a Phœnix’ love;

A beauty of that clear and sparkling light,

Would make a day of night,

And turn the blackest sorrows to bright joys:

Whose od’rous breath destroys

All taste of bitterness, and makes the air

As sweet as she is fair.

A body so harmoniously composed,

As if nature disclosed

All her best symmetry in that one feature!

O, so divine a creature,

Who could be false to? chiefly when he knows

How only she bestows

The wealthy treasure of her love on him;

Making his fortunes swim

In the full flood of her admired perfection?

What savage, brute affection

Would not be fearful to offend a dame

Of this excelling frame?

Much more a noble and right generous mind

To virtuous moods inclined,

That knows the weight of guilt: he will refrain

From thoughts of such a strain;

And to his sense object this sentence ever,

‘Man may securely sin, but safely never.’