illustration of two faces, a man and a woman, staring at one another and connected by vines that meet together between them holding a glass of wine

Song: To Celia

by Ben Jonson
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How is love treated in Ben Jonson's poem "Song to Celia"?

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Love is treated in this poem in as the highest good the narrator can imagine. In the first stanza, the narrator declares that drinking in (gazing into) the beloved's eyes is better than any wine: in other words, it intoxicates him. He even goes on to state that he would...

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Love is treated in this poem in as the highest good the narrator can imagine. In the first stanza, the narrator declares that drinking in (gazing into) the beloved's eyes is better than any wine: in other words, it intoxicates him. He even goes on to state that he would rather gaze into his beloved's eyes than drink Jove's divine nectar.

In the second stanza, the narrator tells of a "rosy wreath" he sent the beloved, hoping that in her hands it would not wither and die. She sent it back to him, apparently rejecting his love offering. Nevertheless, the beloved did breathe on the wreath and for this reason, the narrator says, it is not withering but growing. It also carries the scent of the beloved.

Jonson uses sensual images in this poem as he dwells on the beloved's eyes and breath. The poem hovers on the edge of hyperbole, however, in the narrator's grand claims: he would prefer gazing into the beloved's eyes to drinking Jove's nectar, and he declares the wreath she returned does not die because she breathed on it. These grandiose declarations tell more about the narrator's state of mind than anything realistic about the beloved. They show he is idolizing her as larger than life.

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Ben Jonson's poem "Song to Celia" is a short love poem, often performed as a song. Both stanzas evoke Jonson's understanding of love by use of extended metaphors, but underneath the metaphorical language is a consistent viewpoint, or philosophy, of love.

In the first stanza, love is is compared to drinking wine. Jonson, however, emphasizes that this is not simply carnal or sexual desire, but instead something more spiritual, saying:

The thirst that from the soul doth rise
         Doth ask a drink divine;
Rather than the frank sexuality of Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" or Donne's "The Flea", Jonson focuses on more subtle connections of of sharing a gaze or a cup. 
 
The second stanza describes the poet sending Celia a wreath of roses, saying that the roses if infused with her breath will prolong there lives and become as shared emblem of love.
 
In both stanzas, what is striking is the delicacy of tone, and the sense of love as being something fragile and almost spiritual, as compared to the more earthy tone of the metaphysical poets.
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