Perhaps I'm alone in disliking that poem, but I can't be the only one who bristles when poets invoke it, as though to distinguish themselves from those gushy or fey enthusiasts who Love Poetry Too Much And For the Wrong Reasons. When I saw Robert Pinsky, of all people, run up its red, red flag in Slate this morning, my heart sank--but it turns out to be a reasonably entertaining column, featuring a Ben Jonson poem I teach from time to time, "A Fit of Rime Against Rime." You can click over for Pinsky's commentary, which says some useful things about the history of rhyme in English poetry, about which my students generally don't know much. Here's the poem, and I, too, like it.
A FIT OF RIME AGAINST RIME
Rime, the rack of finest wits,
That expresseth but by fits,
Spoyling Senses of their Treasure,
Cozening Judgement with a measure,
But false weight.
Wresting words, from their true calling;
Propping Verse, for feare of falling
To the ground.
Joynting Syllabes, drowning Letters,
Fastening Vowells, as with fetters
They were bound!
Soone as lazie thou wert knowne,
All good Poetrie hence was flowne,
And Art banish'd.
For a thousand yeares together,
All Pernassus Greene did wither,
And wit vanish'd.
Pegasus did flie away,
At the Wells no Muse did stay,
So to see the Fountaine drie,
And Apollo's Musique die.
All light failed!
Starveling rimes did fill the Stage,
Not a Poet in an Age,
Not a worke deserving Bays,
Nor a line deserving praise,
Greeke was free from Rime's infection,
Happy Greeke, by this protection,
Was not spoyled.
Whilst the Latin, Queene of Tongues,
Is not yet free from Rimes wrongs,
But rests foiled.
Scarce the hill againe doth flourish,
Scarce the world a Wit doth nourish,
Phoebus to his Crowne againe;
And the Muses to their braine;
Vulgar Languages that want
Words, and sweetnesse, and be scant
Of true measure;
Tyrant Rime hath so abused,
That they long since have refused
He that first invented thee,
May his joynts tormented bee,
Still may Syllabes jarre with time,
Still may reason warre with rime,
May his Sense, when it would meet
The cold tumor in his feet,
And his Title be long foole,
That, in rearing such a Schoole,
Was the founder.