Monday, December 18, 2006

postal scrotum: Nathan tackles Ben Jonson

Nathan writes again with a more serious look at the Jonson poem:

Hi Kevin,

I dashed off that last email without an attempted solution because I was on my way to work.

Looking at it now, here is my interpretation:

"It is not growing like a tree (i.e. in bulk) that doth make a man better be..."; the "but, rather..." is implied. Charles is on the right track, although I would clarify that the metaphor is not the whole poem, but just these few lines. I-- rather briefly-- just looked at the poem in its entirety; as I understand the poem, it is comforting a man for the untimely loss of his young friend. The poet is not talking about nature, nor even really about Man, but about one special man who lost his special friend to an early death, which friendship is held up as an example for all. The last few lines of the first stanza are critical: like the flower which lives for a day before fading, the young man was a beautiful being worth remembering, despite having lived, like the flower of the proverbially biblical "grass of the field" (Isaiah 40), for only a short time.

All the best,

Now that would absolutely never have occurred to me, but like Charles's take, your interpretation strikes me as plausible and, further, reasonable. I'll have to chew on this.

Anyone else have any thoughts on how to rewrite the poem's first two lines in modern prose?


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