Jonson reproves himself for "ease and sloth" in the wake of a failure. He exhorts himself to use his knowledge and talents rather than letting them go to waste and allowing lesser writers to assume the place that is rightfully his. Throughout the poem, Johnson uses classical imagery to illustrate his destiny as a great poet. To this, he opposes imagery drawn from the natural world: moths, fish, wolves, and donkeys. These images symbolize his greatest enemies: sloth, time, inferior competitors, hostile critics, and the ignorant public.
In the second stanza, for instance, the poet refers to Aonia and Thespia, both of which are close to Mount Helicon, the home of the Muses. Later, in the fifth stanza, he exhorts himself to take up the lyre, the instrument that accompanied not only the lyric poetry to which it gave its name, but also epic, traditionally the poetry with the greatest prestige, as well as being the domain of the Muses' leader, Calliope.
The final stanza makes it clear that Jonson does not intend to return to drama, but will follow another Muse in a higher type of poetry. The message here is that Jonson intends to use this setback to reorient himself towards even more ambitious goals. The stage is contemptuously characterized as a "strumpet" and the critics and audience as wolves and asses. In fact, Jonson remains principally known for his dramatic works, though he did fulfill his ambition in part by bringing a weight of classical erudition to the drama.