Study Guide

Song to Celia ("Drink to me only with thine eyes") Mortality

By Ben Jonson


But might I of Jove's nectar sup,
I would not change for thine (7-8)

The speaker appears to choose the mortal (Celia) over the immortal (Jove's "nectar"), but these categories are also hopelessly confused in this poem. The speaker describes love as a "drink divine" (6) and suggests that Celia is some type of angelic being. And whenever we try to map mortal and immortal in this poem, similar confusions result.

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
Not so much honouring thee
As giving it a hope that there
It could not withered be" (9-12)

The speaker sends Celia a wreath in order to see if she can prevent it form withering. "Be" and "thee" rhyme, and "wreath" almost rhymes (the vowel sounds rhyme at least). These sound connections seem to emphasize the speaker's hope that Celia can somehow infuse her own life into the (dead, and hence mortal) leaves and flowers of the wreath. The poem's sounds enact what the speaker wants to happen.

But thou thereon didst only breathe,
And sent'st it back to me;
Since when it grows, and smells, I swear" (13-15)

The wreath appears to have become immortal since it still "grows," even though it is necessary to kill the leaves and flowers in order to make a wreath. The fact that Celia's breath seems responsible for the wreath's strange immortality recalls, however faintly, God's breathing of life into Adam (according to the Judeo-Christian tradition, the first human being).