In our contemporary discourse, literacy and culture sometimes tend to be associated with the visual act of reading: What comes in through the ear, that organ of the Walkman, may be considered less reflective or intellectual. For Ben Jonson, writing this brilliant poem early in the 17th century, the opposite is true: The ear is the avenue of the spirit, while the eye is duped by mere seeming. What he means about the ear he demonstrates in sentences that skim and dance across the lines and rhymes, flamenco-style, or like Michael Jordan creating space where there was none.
I now think love is rather deaf, than blind,
For else it could not be,
Whom I adore so much, should so slight me,
And cast my love behind:
I’m sure my language to her was as sweet,
And every close did meet
In sentence of as subtle feet
As hath the youngest he,
That sits in shadow of Apollo’s tree.
Oh, but my conscious fears,
That fly my thoughts between,
Tell me that she hath seen
My hundreds of gray hairs,
Told seven and forty years,
Read so much waist, as she cannot embrace
My mountain belly and my rocky face,
And all these, through her eyes, have stopt her ears.