- SLOW, slow, fresh fount, keep time with my salt tears;
- Yet, slower, yet; O faintly, gentle springs:
- List to the heavy part the music bears,
- Woe weeps out her division, when she sings.
- Droop herbs, and flowers,
- Fall grief in showers,
- Our beauties are not ours:
- O, I could still,
- Like melting snow upon some craggy hill,
- Drop, drop, drop, drop,
- Since nature's pride is, now, a withered daffodil.
- Ben Jonson (1573-1637)
An English playwright Ben Jonson was the first Poet Laureate. As one of Shakespeare's contemporaries his creative talents were many and varied and had a considerable effect upon the Jacobean and Carolinian periods, most likely the result of his critical theories. He desired to advance English drama as a form of literature and he gave in to no one in the high esteem he placed on poetry. He saw it as essentially an art that should adhere to classical forms and rules. He spoke out most often about the mixing of comedy and tragedy. An effective advocate of the principles of drama established by Aristotle, which he praised at the expense of flexibility and improvisational qualities of dramatists like Shakespeare. Jonson's importance rests today in his comedies of manners and their portrayal of contemporary life in London.
Slow, slow, fresh fount, written in 1600 as part of his satiric play Cynthia's Revels in which he satirizes other writer, in particular, the English dramatist Thomas Dekker and John Marston. (Dekker and Martin retaliated by attacking Jonson in their Satiromastix.) A portion of the comedy deals with the myth of Narcissus, a young lad who falls in love with his own reflection, pines away, and eventually is transformed into a flower. Echo falls in love with him but in the end she fails to save him from himself. This lament is sung by Echo to Narcissus. The very first line with its dense spondaic rhythm, slow slow and alliteration, fresh fount, along with the internal rhyme of time and my of second half of the phrase would stand alone as poetry. Samuel Johnson extolled this pretty and sad little song for how well Ben Jonson matched his thoughts with his words. What could sound slower than "Slow, slow, fresh fount"?
Despite his literary feuds, Jonson was the recognized leader of the men of letters of his era, the leading wit and dean of the group of writers who met regularly at the Mermaid Tavern in the Cheapside district of London. His most famous song is probably Drink to me only with thine eyes . He was made Poet Laureate by King Charles I in 1636 and died a year later at Westminster on August 6th.
Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "Jonson, Ben," Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988.
Public Domain text of the poem taken from the Poet's Corner