Study Guide

Song to Celia ("Drink to me only with thine eyes") Symbolism, Imagery, Wordplay

By Ben Jonson

Symbolism, Imagery, Wordplay

Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, Shmoop is here. Check out our "How to Read a Poem" section for a glossary of terms.

Drinking

"To Celia" is really an extended toast of sorts – it begins with the speaker urging Celia to "drink" to him with her eyes – and drinking plays an important part for a large part of the poem. In particular, the speaker uses drinking and thirst as a metaphor for love or desire. He's helping us understand something spiritual (love) by putting it in terms of something earthly (the necessity for water or drink).

  • Line 1: The speaker tells Celia to "drink" to him only with her eyes. Eyes don't really "drink," and "drink" is a metaphor here for the action of lifting or pledging with one's eyes.
  • Line 2: The speaker says he will "pledge" – offer some kind of toast – with his eyes too.
  • Line 3: The speaker asks Celia to leave a "kiss within the cup." You can't really leave a kiss in the cup in the same way you'd leave an ice cube, so this is most likely a fancy way of saying "kiss the cup" or "leave your lip marks on it."
  • Line 4: The speaker says a kiss is enough for him; he doesn't need any wine. While he could be talking just about wine, it seems probable that he means beverages in general. Wine is here standing in for the whole category of beverages; this is called synechdoche.
  • Line 5: The speaker describes his emotions as a "thirst" that comes from the soul. "Thirst" is here a metaphor for desire, powerful emotion, love, etc.
  • Line 6: The speaker says the soul requires a "drink divine." The speaker isn't talking about a literally "divine" beverage, but rather a show of love from Celia, or something similar. "Divine drink" is a metaphor here.
  • Line 7: The speaker mentions Jove's "nectar," the Greek and Roman gods' favorite drink. "Nectar" is here a symbol of an earthly or mortal beverage, as opposed to the "drink divine" (6) of Celia's love.

Immortality

The speaker talks about Jove's "nectar" (Jove a.k.a. Jupiter a.k.a. Zeus is the immortal king of the gods in Greek/Roman mythology) and expresses a desire that the "rosy wreath" (9) he sends Celia will not die in her presence. He even talks about how the soul requires a "divine" (6) drink – not Jove's nectar, but something equally out-of-this-world. By the end of the poem, he even implies that the "rosy wreath" continues to "grow," even though we know that that is impossible (a wreath is made of flowers or leaves that have been plucked, so they're dead). The implication is that the woman's breath is able to make things immortal.

  • Line 6: The speaker says the soul requires a "drink divine." No, he isn't talking about a literally "divine" beverage (no heavenly Mountain Dew), but rather a show of love from Celia, or something similar. "Divine drink" is a metaphor here. Also, notice how the "d" sound is repeated at the beginning of two words? That's called alliteration.
  • Line 7: The speaker mentions Jove, the king of the Greek and Roman gods (who were, you know, immortal). Nectar is the drink of the gods. The word nectar actually comes from two Greek words that combined mean something like "overcoming death" (nekros, dead body; tar, overcome).
  • Lines 11-12: The speaker sends Celia a wreath in order to see if it will live forever (i.e., become immortal) in her presence. The wreath is here a symbol of artistic creation itself.
  • Line 15: The speaker says the wreath continues to "grow," which suggests that it is immortal. This is a bit odd because you can't make a wreath without killing the leaves or flowers it's made of, so the fact that the wreath still grows suggests that the speaker's experiment has succeeded. The wreath's continued growth is a symbol of immortality and is also meant to symbolize the speaker's hopes for the continued life of his relationship to Celia.

Flowers and Plants

The "rosy wreath," and the vocabulary that accompanies it, takes up a big part of the second half of the poem. The wreath is similar to a bouquet of flowers that you might give to your crush, but in the poem the speaker uses it in order to determine if Celia possesses the angelic or divine power to keep things living. The wreath is also a symbol in the poem of art itself, something carefully and skillfully created in much the same way as Jonson's poem.

  • Line 7: The speaker mentions Jove's "nectar" (a liquid that usually comes from plants). Although it is divine (nectar is the drink of the gods), the speaker uses it here as a symbol of an earthly or mortal beverage, as opposed to the "drink divine" (6) of Celia's love.
  • Line 9: The "rosy wreath" the speaker sends Celia is a symbol of art. Like the poem itself, it is carefully constructed.
  • Line 12: The speaker hopes the wreath won't "wither," which is what flowers and plants usually do when you pluck them.
  • Line 15: The speaker implies that the wreath is immortal because it still "grows," even though to make a wreath one must kill the flowers and/or leaves. Here, then, the "growing" wreath is a symbol of Celia's quasi-divine power.