Ben Jonson – (The Triumph of Charis)

Sandro Botticelli (c.1445-1510) – Primavera (Allegory of Spring)  (1482) – (detail)

 continuing with Ben Jonson

AG:   Yeah, well I want to get on to “The Triumph of Charis” – Charis? – Charis. Do you know what that is? It’s a play, originally, I imagine, from a play, or  a longer poem but I think a play Do you know anything about that, the origin of that, Stanley? (sic)

Stanley Lombardo : No

AG: Okay, the measure or the rhythm in the ending of this poem is really exquisite and powerful and really interesting maybe to get on the (black)board even, however, we’ll get to that. The beginning is not so interesting to me, but let’s take the second stanza, a part of it, on page two-sixty.  “Charis”, presumably, some exquisite, feminine principle, some feminine divinity.


“Do but look on her eyes/All that Love’s world compriseth!/Do but look on her hair, it is bright/As Love’s star when it riseth!/Do but mark her forehead’s smoother/Than words that soothe her;/ And from her arched brows, such a grace/Sheds itself through the face/As alone there triumphs to the life/All the gain, all the good, of the elemenrs’ strife.

(He continues)

Have you seen but a bright lily grow,/Before rude hands have touch’d it?/Ha’ you mark’d but the fall  o’ the snow/Before the soil hath smutch’d it?/Ha’ you felt the wool o’ the beaver?/Or swan’s down ever?/Or have smelt o’ the bud o’ the briar?/Or the nard in the fire?/Or have tasted the bag of the bee?/Oh so white! Oh so soft! Oh so sweet is she!

Now isn’t that something!

Student; What was a “nard” in those days?

AG:  Nard – Spikenard – an aromatic plant  – I guess – Well, “have you smelt the aromatic plant in the fire?”  (you know, when you throw evergreen, or…what do you throw in the fire nowadays to..?)

Student: Juniper

AG: Juniper  –  “Have you smelt all the juniper in the fire?” – the “nard” – the nard in the fire – the nasal nard – have you smelt the nard?  (the spikenard in the fire).

That’s just so pretty, though.  Now, what is it though, that makes it that ? –  “Have you seen but a bright lily grow..” – da-da-da, da-da-da,  da-da-da. Well, but, basically… I would like to get a little bit of this, visually, out there in front of you  (we don’t do enough of that) – (Allen heads to the blackboard.. ,)

to be continued

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately nineteen minutes in and concluding at approximately twenty-one-and-a-half minutes in] 

[This material first appeared on The Allen Ginsberg Project – here]

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