Henry Charles Beeching, ed. (1859–1919). Lyra Sacra: A Book of Religious Verse. 1903.

By Ben Jonson (1573?–1647)

To Heaven

GOOD 1 and Great God! can I not think of Thee
But it must straight my melancholy be?
Is it interpreted in me disease,
That laden with my sins I seek for ease?
O, be Thou witness, that the reins dost know        5
And hearts of all, if I be sad for show;
And judge me after if I dare pretend
To aught but grace, or aim at other end.
As Thou art all, so be Thou all to me,
First, midst, and last, converted one and three,        10
My faith, my hope, my love; and in this state
My judge, my witness, and my advocate.
Where have I been this while exiled from Thee?
And whither rapt, now Thou but stoop’st to me?
Dwell, dwell here still; O, being everywhere        15
How can I doubt to find Thee ever here?
I know my state, both full of shame and scorn,
Conceived in sin, and unto labour born;
Standing with fear, and must with horror fall,
And destined unto judgment after all.        20
I feel my griefs too, and there scarce is ground
Upon my flesh to inflict another wound.
Yet dare I not complain or wish for death
With holy Paul, lest it be thought the breath
Of discontent: or that these prayers be        25
For weariness of life, not love of Thee.
Note 1. “To Heaven.” The second line is explained by the third. “Melancholy” was in Jonson’s day the name of a disease that was prescribed for. We might paraphrase by saying, Must I, because I am grieved for sin, be told my liver is out of order? In the next couplet he refers to the fashion of affecting melancholy. Cf. Shakespeare’s “King John,” iv. 1, 13—
          “I remember, when I was in France,
Young gentlemen would be as sad as night,
Only for wantonness”;
and the speeches of the “melancholy Jacques” in “As You Like It.” [back]