Jonson’s Lucius Cary & Henry Morison

[ Two Young Men – (ca. 1590) – by Crispin van den Broeck (1523-ca.1591) – oil on panel – 44.5 cm × 60 cm –  Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England]

AG: This (poem) [Ben Jonson’s “To The Immortal Memory and Friendship of That Noble Pair, Sir Lucius Cary and Sir Henry Morison“- is about two young fellows who are really good friends, maybe lovers (there’s some slight suggestion of “heart-love” between them), who died young. As the last line says, on page two-sixty-five, “Who ere the first down bloomèd on the chin/Had sowed these fruits, and got the harvest in.” – “ere the first down bloomèd on the chin” – they must have been very young – . Sir Lucius Cary and Sir Henry Morison, who, apparently, were really close friends, and, according to Jonson, model kids, absolutely learned and straightforward and true-hearted and noble-minded, and well-versed in letters, apparently. And it’s actually quite moving, his love of them, and his description of their liking of each other. So, (on page two-sixty-four), I’d like to read just a few of the verses.

One is kind of about poetry, (at the top of page two-sixty-four), Jonson says, “Alas, but Morison fell young;/He never fell, thou fall’st, my tongue.” – (Jonson’s tongue failed to say how great they were) – So then (on top of page two-sixty-four) – “Go now, and tell out days summed up with fears,/ And make them years;/ Produce thy mass of miseries on the stage/ To swell thin age;/ Repeat of things a throng,/ To show thou hast been long,/ Not lived; for life doth her great actions spell/ By what was done and wrought/ In season, and so brought/ To light: her measures are, how well/ Each syllable answered, and was formed how fair;/ These make the lines of life, and that’s her air.” – (So, little puns on “air’ ( a tune), “measures” (of the line) – “her measures are, how well/ Each syllable.. was answered,” – (What he’s saying here is what’s important about life is not how long it was but how intense it was, how lively it was and how fair it was, rather than the duration) – And then he goes on – ” “It is not growing like a tree/ In bulk doth make man better be;/Or standing long an oak, three hundred year,/ To fall a log at last, dry, bald, and sere:/ A lily of a day/ Is fairer far in May;/ Although it fall and die that night,/It was the plant and flower of light./ In small proportions we just beauties see,/And in short measures life may perfect be.” – (that’s kind of romantic – it’s the beginning of a.. well, people didn’t usually say things like that, usually they were saying, like, you know, “long life, good health, sanity, treasure wealth. , but, you know, don’t burn your candle at both ends” – but he’s rigorous – Jonson is one of the most rigorous and intelligent of the poets, and most moralistic, in a way, after Shakespeare (in fact, beginning to moralize a great deal and make generalizations a great deal). and he was here saying, as a generalization, you know – length of life isn’t so interesting, but intensity.)

So, “Call, noble Lucius, then for wine, /And let thy looks with gladness shine;/ Accept this garland, plant it on thy head, /And think, nay know, thy Morison’s not dead./ He leaped the present age,/ Possessed with holy rage To see that bright eternal day…” – (That’s really nice , Dylan Thomas, Jimmy Dean) – “He leaped the present age,/ Possessed with holy rage To see that bright eternal day/Of which we priests and poets say” – (That’s pretty nice – “Of which we priests and poets” – giving himself airs there!) – “He leaped the present age,/ Possessed with holy rage To see that bright eternal day/Of which we priests and poets say/ Such truths as we expect for happy men,/ And there he lives with memory, and Ben/Jonson! who sung this of him” – (that’s nice, he’s got the exclamation mark) – “and Ben/Jonson! who sung this of him ere he went./Himself to rest,/ Or taste a part of that full joy he meant/ To have expressed/ In this bright asterism;/ Where it were friendship’s schism/ (Were not his Lucius long with us to tarry)/To separate these twi-/ Lights, the Dioscuri, /And keep the one half from his Harry./ But fate doth so alternate the design,/Whilst that in heaven, this light on earth must shine.”

So he can get pretty playful with his Ode, with his antistrophe.. with his epode, or stand, when he leaps that,, when he leaps from the counter-turn to the stand, cutting his name right up, that’s pretty amazing, it’s really modern, sort of… Like, E.E.Cummings worked little tricks like that, and yet to see it in a classic like Jonson is pretty interesting, because it meant, by that time,people were so hung up on the artiness of it and the ornamentation It was beginning to get away a little bit from the primary matter – “I Syng of a Maydan that is Makeles” – you know, the total heart sincerity (though this is pretty emotionally strong. I think – the way he puts his name in there and cuts it in half infers “I’m going to die too, before I go to my rest “)

But then he goes on, “To separate “these twi-/ Lights, the Dioscuri” – (I don’t know how you pronounce it – the Dioscuri?) – “To separate “these twi-/ Lights, the Dioscuri” – “Harry” is meaning.. – (“And keep the one half from his Harry”) – Henry Morison, the fellow that he’s talking about. “The Dioscuri”, you can get on the footnote, the Castor and Pollux, sons of Zeus – one died, they were very close, so they made an arrangement, anarrangement with Zeus that half the time one would be on earth and half the time one would be a constellation in heaven, (that’s the constellation under which I was born, Gemini).

So, then it gets nice (and) talks about the friendship, with good mature advice for how to be a twenty-year-old yet steady with peach-fuzzed chin – “And shine as you exalted are, /Two names of friendship, but one star:/ Of hearts the union. And those not by chance/ Made, or indenture, or leased out t’advance/ The profits for a time.” – (in other words, not for any crass commercial gain, or accident, or S & M psychological possession, or work, or profit, or leased (a friendship not leased out to advance the profits for a time)) – “No pleasures vain did chime/ Of rimes, or riots, at your feasts/ Orgies of drink, or feigned protests,/ But simple love of greatness and of good;/ That knits brave minds and manners more than blood.”) – (Ah, so what did they do, I wonder? – they didn’t write poetry, they didn’t drink, they didn’t riot, they didn’t fuck -what did they do? – does anybody know anything about them? anybody know their story? It would be kind of interesting to know who these two kids were. Young!).

So, “This made you first to know the why/ You liked, then after to apply/ That liking, and approach so one the tother,/ Till either grew a portion of the other:/
Each styled by his end./The copy of his friend./ You lived to be the great surnames/ And titles by which all made claims/ Unto the virtue. Nothing perfect done,/ But as a Cary, or a Morison.” – (That’s pretty good – He says, he insists, that they served as models for his whole community, his whole tribe, or his whole friendly gang) – “And such a force the fair example had,/ As they that saw/
The good, and durst not practice it, were glad/ That such a law/ Was left yet to mankind;/ Where they might read and find/ Friendship, indeed, was written, not in words;/ And with the heart, not pen,/ Of two so early men,/ Whose lines her rolls were, and recòrds,/ Who, ere the first down bloomèd on the chin,/
Had sowed these fruits, and got the harvest in.” – ( (so) at twenty, they’d harvested that much virtue, of some sort) – That’s quite interesting. Jonson had quite a large circle of friends, literary friends, and, as you can see from this, was quite a wit with his line, with his meters, and with his sense of art. So, I suppose, he had cultivated some kind of charmed circle of intelligent young aristocrats, I suppose, or just.. (but see, they’re not aristocrats, because they’re not blood, it wasn’t a question of blood – “That knits brave minds and manners more than blood” – that wasn’t it).

[Audio for the above can be found here, beginning at approximately fourteen minutes in and concluding at approximately twenty-three-and-three-quarter minutes in]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *