Discuss about Ben Jonson’s view on Poet, his qualification, his nobility

Ben Jonson’s view of the vocation of a poet is an equally exalted one. The poet has, “a god in him,” he has in him, “abundant portion of divine breath.” Mere excellence in style or versification does not make a poet, but rather the exact knowledge of vices and virtues, with ability to make the latter loved and the former hated; and this is so far true, that to be a good poet, it is necessary, first of all, to be a really good man. The qualification which he lays down for a poet further brings out the nobility of his conception. The poet must have (a) natural or inborn instinct, (b) constant exercise or practice, (C) imitation or the ability to draw on models, (d) wide study and knowledge, and (e) art, i.e., mastery over poetic art and technique. In other words, both nature and art-natural gifts as well as acquired ability, a typically Renaissance view—are necessary for successful creation.

First, the poet should be divinely inspired, with the divine within him he should be able to utter somewhat, “above a mortal mouth”. That is why poets are so rare; “Poets are not born every year”.

Secondly, constant exercise and practice are necessary to perfect the inborn gifts: “What is written in a hurry lasts only a day. The Common Rymer pour’s Verse, such as they are extempore, but there never comes from them one sense, worth the life of a Day. A Rymer, and a poet are two things. It is said of the incomparable, Virgil, that he brought forth his verses like a Beare, and after formed them with licking. Scaliger, the father, writes it of him, that he made a number of verses in the morning, which in a fortnight he reduced to a lesser number.”

The third requirement of a poet is an imitation of some model, preferably from the ancient masters. “This third requisite in our poet, or Maker, is Imitation, to be able to convert the substance or Riches of another Poet to his own use. To make a choice of one very excellent man above the rest, and so to follow him, till he grows. He, or so like him, as the copy may be mistaken for the principal. Not as a creature that swallows what it takes in crude, raw, or undigested, but that feeds with an Appetite, and hath a Stomache to concoct, divide, and turn all into nourishment. Not to intimate servilely, as Horace, and catch at vices for virtue; but to draw forth out of the best and choicest flowers, with the Bee, and turn all into honey, work it into one relish and savour, make one Imitation sweet; observe how the best writers have imitated, and follow them.” Thus imitation is not to be a servile copying, it is to be a process of assimilation and recreation.


Fourthly, the poet must have wide reading and knowledge. He must be learned like Ben himself. He must have the exactness of studies and multiplicity of reading, “which maketh a full man, not alone enabling him to know the History or Argument of a Poem and to report it, but so to master the matter and Style, as to show he knows how to handle, place, or dispose of either with elegance, when need shall be.”

Fifthly, even inspiration, exercise, imitation, and study are not sufficient. The poet must also have Art, or knowledge of poetic technique,  which he must acquire painstakingly: “He must not think that he can leap forth suddenly a poet by dreaming he hath been in Parnassus or having washed his lips, as they say, in Helican. There goes more to his making, then so; for to Nature, Exercise, Imitation, and Studies, Art must be added to make all these perfect. And, though these challenge to themselves much in the making up of our Maker, it is Art only can lead him to perfection, and leave him there in possession, as planted by her hand.” It is this stress on art as a distinct element, almost an end itself”, says Spingarn, “that distinguishes Jonson from his predecessors.”