Slow, Slow, Fresh Fount
by Ben Jonson
Lines 1-6 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Slow, slow, fresh fount, keep time with my salt tears;
- The poem opens with the speaker addressing a "fount," an old word for a spring, or a fountain. Why's she talking to water? We'll have to wait and see just what exactly the speaker means, but we can tell you that when the speaker of a poem starts having a chat with something that isn't actually alive – like, say, a fountain – we call this an apostrophe.
- The speaker tells the "fount" to be slow and to "keep time" with her "salt tears. "
- "Keep time" sounds like a musical metaphor, right? Right. The speaker tells the "fount" to do whatever it does (drip water? make noise?) to the same beat or rhythm as the speaker's tears.
- Of course it helps to know that the speaker of these lines is Echo, a female figure from ancient mythology. Because this poem appears within Jonson's play Cynthia's Revels, Jonson's counting on you to have a little context. Feel free to check out our "In a Nutshell" for the lowdown.
- Finally, we can't resist pointing out the double alliteration of "Slow, slow" and "fresh fount." It's a nifty sonic trick, but it also helps to slow the poem itself down as we linger over the repeated S's and F's.
Yet slower yet, oh faintly gentle springs
- The speaker continues to talk to the fount. It turns out that the font is actually a collection of "gentle springs. "
- The springs are "faintly gentle." "Faintly" could refer either to the sound they make (as in, sing more "faintly ") or it could describe how "gentle" the springs are, as in, the opposite of, say, Old Faithful.
- Apparently, the "springs" are not slow enough for the speaker because she tells them to be slower. But it's still not clear what they should be doing "slower."
- In any case, line 2 continues the idea set up in line 1 – that these springs should somehow reflect her emotions. She wants the water to act like she feels.
- Notice anything else about this line? How about the rhythm? This line is written in a little something we like to call iambic pentameter. For more on what this means, be sure to check out our "Form and Meter" section. And keep your eye open for more of this meter as you continue reading the poem.
List to the heavy part the music bears,
Woe weeps out her division when she sings.
- These lines are a bit tricky, but we've got some handy vocab tips to help you crack the code. "List" is an older form of "listen." "Heavy part" does not refer to the actual weight of the music, but rather to the fact that it is emotionally "heavy," or sad. And a "division" is a piece or part of music.
- Awesome, now let's put it all together. In these lines, Echo addresses the founts of water again, telling them to listen, or "list" to the music. Woe "weeps" out her part in the songs (we're betting she's a soprano).
- It's not clear if Echo means that some lady named Woe is singing along with her, or if she is referring to herself as Woe, and she is singing the song. Whatever the case, she is personifying woe, here, giving sadness the human ability to sing.
- One more thing. Do us a favor, will you? Read all four lines so far aloud to yourself. Do you notice anything about the ends of the lines? There's a rhyme scheme going on, a little ABAB action. It might not seem that way at first, but "tears" rhymes with "bears." Plus "springs" rhymes with "sings."
Droop herbs and flowers;
Fall grief in showers;
- Apostrophes abound. Echo tells the "herbs and flowers" to "droop." She also tells "grief" to "fall…in showers." She's very demanding, isn't she?
- To be fair, it is possible to read "droop" as a description, rather than a command. In other words, Echo might just be telling us that the "herbs and flowers" "droop." Maybe it's hot outside.
- At any rate, she wants them to droop and act as sad as she is, which means that for Echo these flowers act as a symbol of her grief.
- What about these "showers"? They're a bit unclear, aren't they? Echo could be referring to her tears, or she could be asking the natural world to express its grief by raining.
- These lines introduce a different rhyme scheme, as they rhyme with each other. No more alternating. So our rhyme scheme so far is ABABCC.
- Meter wise, Jonson has kicked iambic pentameter to the curb. These lines have only five syllables, and don't fall into any meter as traditional as iambic.