To hear Robert Pinsky read “His Excuse for Loving,” click here.
Is it possible to write in rhyme and meter more gracefully and plainly than Ben Jonson (1573-1637) does in “His Excuse for Loving”? In couplets and the “beheaded” (first syllable omitted) four-foot iambic line, familiar from “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” he speaks his mind directly and eloquently about feeling love ardently when no longer a youth. The closing lines of the poem, with the sentence dancing eagerly over and across the ends of the lines, suggest that William Butler Yeats read Jonson closely–and indeed Yeats and Ezra Pound did study Jonson during the months when they shared a cottage in the country.
Let it not your wonder move,
Less your laughter, that I love.
Though I now write fifty years,
I have had, and have my Peeres;
Poets, though divine are men:
Some have loved as old again.
And it is not always face,
Clothes, or Fortune gives the grace;
Or the feature, or the youth:
But the Language, and the Truth,
With the Ardor, and the Passion,
Gives the Lover weight, and fashion.
If you then will read the Storie,
First, prepare you to be sorry
That you never knew till now,
Either whom to love, or how:
But be glad, as soon with me,
When you know, that this is she,
Of whose Beautie it was sung,
She shall make the old man young,
Keepe the middle age at stay,
And let nothing high decay,
Till she be the reason why,
All the world for love may die.