Study Guide

To the Memory of My Beloved Lines 59-70

By Ben Jonson

Lines 59-70

Lines 59-64

Who casts to write a living line, must sweat,
(Such as thine are) and strike the second heat
Upon the Muses' anvil ; turn the same,
And himself with it, that he thinks to frame ;
Or for the laurel he may gain a scorn ;
For a good poet's made, as well as born.

  • Line 59 introduces an extended metaphor that compares the writing of poetry to the forging of metal.
  • Jonson writes that in order to write a "living line," you've gotta break a sweat. But what exactly does Jonson mean by a "living line"? 
  • Shmoop's got a couple theories, the first of which plays into a lot of the death/immortality stuff that is clearly at work in this poem. A living line, perhaps, is one that will continue to be read long after its author is dead. 
  • But it could also mean a phrase that resonates with your audience, or one that makes a story "come alive" to someone watching or reading a play. There's really no right answer here, so we've got to learn to live with a little ambiguity.
  • Now, an anvil (61) is a tool commonly used by smiths when they are forging things from metal. Jonson's reference to striking the second heat refers to the process of taking multiple steps to forge a final product: hot metal cools so quickly you often have to take something in and out of the forge several times during the actual shaping process because you cannot get all your shape work done before the metal cools off. It's a reference to the revisions Shakespeare was rumored never to make and fits in nicely with the idea of "art" as craft, or something that requires skill, energy, and dedication.
  • In line 62 we see that Jonson believes both the work and the poet are in need of some fine-tuning; it is only through this process of revision that both can express the fullest extent of what the poet wants to say.
  • Without these revisions and without "art", according to line 63, poets who seek the laurel (a symbol of poetic excellence), may gain scorn instead of praise.
  • Line 64 is unusually quippy for Jonson, and is very likely a little pat on the back for himself as well as a compliment to Shakespeare.
  • See, in the art-versus-nature debate, people tend to associate Shakespeare's flowing, romantic prose and his ability to connect with the human condition with the natural side of things, and Jonson's structured, knowledgeable, and critical style with art.
  • Jonson does not have Shakespeare's poetics, but line 64 is, in its own, Jonson's way of saying that he's okay with that; he might not have been born with the natural gift for poetics that Shakespeare has, but through hard work and perseverance, he has made himself a good poet.

Lines 65-70

And such wert thou ! Look how the father's face
Lives in his issue, even so the race
Of Shakspeare's mind and manners brightly shines
In his well-turned and true-filed lines;
In each of which he seems to shake a lance,
As brandisht at the eyes of ignorance.

  • And hey, look at that. You were a good poet after all, Big Willy.
  • Starting in line 65, we've got another metaphor that compares the relationship between an author and his work to the bond between a father and his children. Shakespeare is the father, the poems and plays he wrote are his children.
  • You know how sometimes people will tell you that you've got your mother's eyes or your grandmother's bone structure?
  • That's what this passage is referring to when it talks about the father's face living in his issue, or descendants. It's the early modern equivalent to the idea that artists put something of themselves in their work, or how an athlete leaves a piece of himself on the field where a big game was played.
  • Line 67 is still running with the same metaphor; the traits of Shakespeare that appear in his "children" are his mind and his manners.
  • Manners is sort of an odd word to use here; it doesn't mean his manners in the sense of his politeness, but more like his personality—his way of doing things, saying things, and interpreting things.
  • Now, line 68. It's easy to see how Shakespeare's mind and manners could be seen in his "lines,"
    but what does it mean that Jonson describes those lines as "well-turned" and "true-filed"? Shmoop's got some ideas. This sounds like it might tie back in to the anvil imagery we saw earlier, but we'll let you try to noodle out this one for yourself.
  • Finally, Jonson imagines Shakespeare's offspring as charging into battle in their father's name, shaking lances (an obvious pun on Shake-speare) at ignorance.
  • Now ignorance didn't necessarily mean the same thing to Jonson as it does to us. While reading Shakespeare would certainly be a good antidote to ignorance in the modern sense, in Jonson's time it was more related to manners than to the mind.
  • Shakespeare makes you smarter, but Jonson is really trying to draw out the ability of his plays and poems to make people more refined. 
  • Remember, plays were entertainment that was enjoyed by both the public at large and the nobility, all the way up to the King and Queen. Jonson is stating here that Shakespeare's characters are capable of being a good influence on the relatively uncivilized groundlings, or common folk, who see his plays, that a character's behavior would actually encourage someone else who didn't know better to act that way and speak that way.

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