Study Guide

Song: To Celia

by Ben Jonson

Song: To Celia Summary

Summary

Lines 1–4

The speaker in "Song: To Celia" opens with a plea for his lady to express her love by gazing upon him. His plea is assertive, in the form of a command to drink to him with her eyes. He wants more than an expression of her love, however; he wants a pledge. He notes this in the second line when he declares that he will return the pledge with his own eyes. The reference to the cup that is commonly filled with wine becomes an apt metaphor for what he is asking from his lady. One usually makes a toast, a pledge of some sort, when first sipping a cup of wine. The speaker wants his lady to make a pledge to him with her eyes rather than while drinking from a cup of wine. This pledge would be more personal and so more meaningful to him.

By suggesting that his lady could convey such a pledge through her gaze, he pays tribute to her expressive eyes. He suggests that their connection is so intimate that they do not need the words of a speech to communicate their feelings for each other. This act reflects medieval love conventions, which propose that love is received through the eyes.

When the speaker gives his lady an alternative way to express her love, he suggests that she may be reluctant to do so. Leaving a kiss in the cup would allow her to respond to him in a more modest manner. This alternative, he states, would be just as pleasing to him. When he insists that he will "not look for wine," he implies that her kiss will intoxicate him more than any alcohol could. Wine would be an inadequate replacement for her love.

Jonson smoothly integrates the images of eyes, drinking, and wine in these first lines, which reinforces and heightens his speaker's expression of love and longing. Initially, the metaphor of drinking with one's eyes seems too forced, yet eyes produce liquid and can "brim over" with tears of sadness or joy. This liquidity, rather than that of wine, becomes the speaker's preferred method of demonstration. The image of the kiss also integrates smoothly with the others. "Kisses sweeter than wine" has become a standard expression of love.

Lines 5–8

The next four lines extend the metaphor set up in the first four lines. The speaker insists that if his lady would leave a kiss for him in the cup, he would prize it more than nectar from the gods. He claims that his soul "thirsts" for love and that only "a drink divine" that transcends even Jove's nectar can quench it. "Jove" refers to the god Jupiter, lord of the classical gods and a recurrent symbol of divinity in...

(The entire section is 1046 words.)