Critical Overview

(Poetry for Students)

When The Forest, containing "Song: To Celia," was published in 1616, it affirmed Jonson's position as one of the court's most distinguished poets. That same year, Jonson was appointed poet laureate of England. In addition, his nearly two decades of celebrated writing were capped that year with the appearance of his massive folio Workes, a fitting testimony to his illustrious reputation and his marked influence on other poets of the age.

"Song: To Celia," Jonson's favorite of all of his lyrics, quickly became his most admired poem. It was put to music later in the century by an anonymous composer, after which it became a popular song in public houses. The poem has continued to enjoy a reputation as one of Jonson's finest lyrics.

John Addington Symonds, in his 1886 study of Jonson, argues that the poem, one of five by Jonson that he names, is a masterpiece "in purely lyric composition" and has "a quality which is definite and individual. No one before him wrote pieces of the sort so terse, so marked by dominant intelligence, so aptly fitted for their purpose." He concludes that, along with those of Shakespeare, Jonson's lyrics "struck the key-note of the seventeenth century."

Claude J. Summers, in his Classic and Cavalier: Celebrating Jonson and the Sons of Ben, addresses current opinion when he writes that the "recent quickening of critical interest in Jonson's nondramatic poetry has led to a new appreciation of...

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