Song to Celia ("Drink to me only with thine eyes")
by Ben Jonson
Song to Celia ("Drink to me only with thine eyes") Theme of Art and Culture
"To Celia" is both an exercise in how to borrow from obscure writers (ancient dude named Philostratus, anyone?) to make a good poem, as well as a reflection on the reception and continued transmission of art over time. The flowery wreath that the speaker gives Celia isn't just a symbol of art in general, but of poetry in particular. Both the wreath and poetry require a certain amount of delicacy and pruning to create, and both depend on an audience or viewer to keep them alive.
Questions About Art and Culture
- In what ways is the "rosy wreath" like a poem? Do you think this is a good metaphor?
- Why does the speaker send Celia the wreath in the first place? What is he trying to accomplish?
- If the wreath in the poem is art, how is Celia (the wreath's "audience") experiencing this art? And what's up with Celia breathing on the wreath and then returning it?
- How might our definitions of what constitute art differ from what people might have considered art in Ben Jonson's day?
Chew on This
"To Celia" is as much about love as it is about art and how art is experienced by an audience.
"To Celia" suggests that art can only survive or continue to "grow" if it is inspired by someone; Celia's breathing on the wreath, which causes it to stay alive, is the critical moment for examining this point.