Song: To Celia Or “Drink to me only with thine eyes”

In this chapter, I will discuss a popular poem namely “To Celia” by Ben Jonson. This frequently quoted poem was published in 1616 in a collection entitled The Forest. This poem is a beautifully balanced poem of unrequited love. It is a love-lyric poem written by a man pretending to address a woman with whom he is in love, but being rejected. The poem begins with a directive imperative (‘Drink to me’), which of course strongly implicates an addressee. The poem continues consistently with this second-person ‘thou’ address

Most people do not seem to regard the poem as an actual letter of correspondence, but see it as being in the conventional tradition of a public declaration of feeling as a piece of artifice.

The readers who offer a reading of the meaning of the poem focus on its beauty and its simple lyricism. Interestingly this model of Jonson as a lyricist of unequalled clarity causes the critics much consternation over the possibility that some parts of the poem are obscure or ambiguous. The two lines “But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,I would not change for thine seem”, disrupt the tone of the poem, and in fact, say the opposite of what might usually be intended in a love lyric.

Lines 1-8: The first stanza is a metaphor which compares love to an ethereal elixir. To strengthen his trope the poet uses the words drink, cup, wine, thirst, and nectar. In line 7, Jonson twists the connotation of sup. The term generally means drinking or eating at night — that is, providing good food for supper.

Lines 7-8: These lines call to mind Odysseus (Roman name, Ulysses) and his wife, Penelope, at Homer’s Odyssey. When the goddess Calypso offered Odysseus immortality to stay with her on her island, Odysseus refused the offer to return to his homeland to be with his wife. Nectar bestowed immortality on those who were drinking it.

Lines 9-16: The second stanza focuses on the expectation that Celia’s and the poet ‘s love will thrive, like the wreath, which continues to expand and send out fragrance.

Figures of Speech and Allusions

Metaphor: The first stanza is a metaphor comparing love to an ethereal elixir. It is essentially an extended toast of sorts – it begins with the speaker telling Celia to “drink” to him with her eyes and drinking plays a significant role in most part of the poem. The speaker uses drinking and thirst especially as a metaphor of love or desire.

Alliteration: The speaker has used alliterations multiple times in the poem such as kiss, cup; drink, divine; rosy, wreath: thou, thereon; smell, swear.

Personification: The thirst . . . doth ask

Allusion, Jove: Another name for Jupiter, king of the gods in Roman mythology. Through Greek mythology, Zeus was modelled after Jove.

Allusion, Nectar: In Greek and Roman mythology, the gods drank nectar, a drink that maintained their immortality. The Greek words nekros (dead body) and tar (overcoming or defeating) derive from nectar. Nectar, instead, means overcoming death.

Important Questions
1. What allusion exists in the first stanza of this poem?
Jonson alludes to the mythological god Jove.

2. Explain the ironies present in the first stanza of the poem.
There is irony in the speaker’s requests for Celia to drink with her eyes and to kiss cups. There is also irony present in his statement that he will pledge with his eyes since most pledge with words.
3. According to the speaker, why did he send the woman a wreath of roses?

The speaker sent her a wreath not in her honour, but in hopes that in her presence it would never wither and stay beautiful forever.

4. What is Celia’s response to the speaker’s gift in the second octet?
Celia does not accept the wreath, but rather sends it back untouched.

5. How, according to the speaker, has the wreath changed?
After the wreath was sent back to him, the speaker believes the wreath now smells like the woman he loves.

6. What is the tone of the poem?
Answers may vary. Example: The tone is overly romantic. The speaker is trying to win Celia, but she does not want to be won. His final exclamation is one of unintended humour for the reader, who sees the hopelessness in the speaker’s actions.

7. What type of poem is song to Celia?
Ans. “Song: To Celia” is an iambic poem of sixteen lines written in four quatrains. After the second quatrain, the content of the poem splits into two octets that depict two distinct scenes. The poem is the third of three songs found in The Forest, addressed to Celia.

8. What does Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes Mean?
Ans. This line is from a love poem “Song: To Celia” by English poet Ben Jonson. In this particular line, the speaker says that the lover find his beloved’s eyes so intoxicating that he doesn’t need to drink wine.

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