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To Celia
Or, "Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes"
A Romance Poem Rendered in English by Ben Jonson
From a Love Letter by Philostratus of Athens or Philostratus of Lemnos 
A Study Guide
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Authorship
Title
Publication Information
Theme
Meter
Structure and Rhyme Scheme
Figures of Speech
Allusions
Study Questions
Text of the Poem
Explanatory Notes
Comments on the Text
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Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings... 2008
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Type of Work and Authorship

"To Celia" is a lyric love poem. It is one of the most frequently quoted poems in English literature. Undoubtedly, most literate persons are familiar with the opening line, “Drink to me only with thine eyes.” Indeed, many people think of that line as the title of the poem. Ben Jonson (1572-1637), a celebrated playwright and poet of the Shakespearean age, often receives full credit for composing those words, as well as the lines in the rest of the poem; instead, he should receive credit for translating or paraphrasing them. It was a Greek named Philostratus who originated the words in his own language. 

But which Philostratus? Scholars identify two writers of this name as candidates for authorship. The first was Lucius Flavius Philostratus (AD 170 to 245-8?), a Greek writer sometimes called Philostratus the Athenian. He long received credit for penning the lines in his love letters (Numbers XXIV, XXV, XXX, and XXXI) until some scholars credited his relative, Philostratus of Lemnos (born AD 190), as the likely author. The authorship question has not been resolved.

Title

The English rendering of the title is “To Celia,” and many anthologies assign that title to it without further comment. However, Jonson wrote two poems with that title, both of them songs. J. William Hebel and Hoyt H. Hudson identify the poem as “Song, to Celia [2]” in their poetry anthology, Poetry of the English Renaissance: 1509-1660 (New York: Appleton, 1957, page 502). 

Publication Information

"To Celia" was published in 1616 in a collection entitled The Forest.

Theme

The theme of "To Celia" is transcendent love. So intense is the poet's feelings for Celiaand hers for him, he hopesthat she need only drink to him with a loving gaze. For his turn, the poet says, he needs no wine to inspirit his love, for it is his soul that thirsts. Only the transcendence of divine love can quench his thirst. 

Meter

The first line has eight syllables (four feet); the second, six syllables (three feet). The rest of the poem follows this pattern: four feet, three feet; four feet, three feet; and so on. In each line (whether eight or six syllables), the first syllable is unstressed, the second is stressed, the third is unstressed, the fourth is stressed, and so on. Thus, the first line below is in iambic tetrameter; the second is in iambic trimeter. (If you need detailed information on meter, click here.) The following example demonstrates the metric scheme of the first two lines. The unstressed syllables are in blue; the stressed are in red capitals. Over each pair of syllables is a number representing the foot. Also, a black vertical line separates the feet.

.......1..............2................3..............
Drink TO..|..me ON..|..ly WITH..|..thine EYES...........(Iambic Tetrameter)
....1........./........2..................3
And I..|..will PLEDGE..|..with MINE............................(Iambic Trimeter)

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Structure and Rhyme Scheme

The poem consists of two stanzas of eight lines each. There are three sentences: Lines 1 to 4, Lines 5 to 8, and Lines 9 to 16. The first stanza centers on love as an ethereal, insubstantial elixir. The second centers on a wreath sent to Celia by the poet. The rhyming lines are as follows: Lines 1 and 5 (eyes, rise); Lines 2, 4, 6, and 8 (mine, wine, divine, thine), Lines 3 and 7 (cup, sup); Lines 9 and 13 (wreath, breathe), Lines 10, 12, 14, 16 (thee, be, me, thee), and Lines 11 and 15 (there, swear). Notice that the rhyming lines of Stanza 1 match, in order of occurrence, the rhyming lines of Stanza 2. For example, in Stanza 1, eyes at the end of the first line rhymes with rise and the end of the fifth line. In Stanza 2, wreath at the end of the first line (Line 9) rhymes with breathe at the end of the fifth line (Line 13). 


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To Celia
A Romance Poem Rendered in English by Ben Jonson
From a Love Letter by Philostratus of Athens or Philostratus of Lemnos
Jonson Published the Poem in 1616

1....Drink to me only with thine eyes,
2....And I will pledge with mine;
3....Or leave a kiss within the cup,
4....And I'll not ask for wine
5....The thirst that from the soul doth rise,
6....Doth crave a drink divine;
7....But might I of Jove's nectar sup,
8....I would not change for thine

9....I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
10..Not so much honoring thee
11..As giving it a hope that there
12..It could not withered be;
13..But thou thereon didst only breathe
14..And sent'st back to me,
15..Since when it grows and smells, I swear,
16..Not of itself, but thee
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Notes and Comments

Lines 1-8: The first stanza is a metaphor comparing love to an ethereal elixir. The poet uses the words drink, cup, wine, thirst, and nectar to enhance his trope. Jonson bends the connotation of sup in line 7. Ordinarily, the word means to eat the evening meal—that is, to have solid food for supper.
Lines 7-8: These lines call to mind Odysseus (Roman name, Ulysses) and his wife, Penelope, in Homer's Odyssey. When the goddess Calypso offered Odysseus immortality if he would remain with her on her island, Odysseus refused the offer in order to return to his homeland to be with his wife. Nectar, as noted above under Figures of Speech and Allusions, conferred immortality on those who drank it. 
Lines 9-16: The second stanza centers on the hope that the love of Celia and the poet will thrive, like the wreath, which continues to grow and send forth fragrance. 



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Figures of Speech and Allusions

Metaphor: The first stanza is a metaphor comparing love to an ethereal elixir. (See "Notes and Comments," above.) 
Alliteration: kiss, cup; drink divine; rosy wreath; thou thereon; smell, swear
Personification: The thirst . . . doth ask
Allusion, Jove: In Roman mythology, another name for Jupiter, king of the gods. In Greek mythology, Jove's name was Zeus.
Allusion, Nectar: In Greek and Roman mythology, the gods drank nectar, a drink that preserved their immortality. Nectar is derived from the Greek words nekros (dead body) and tar (overcoming or defeating). Thus, nectar means overcoming death.

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Study Questions
  • What word is not expressed but implied after thine in line 8?
  • Why did Celia return the wreath (line 14)?
  • A wreath is rounda twisted circle of leaves, flowers, or other foliage. Does its shape have significance in "To Celia"?
  • Explain the use of thou, thee, and thine in the poem. For assistance, click here.

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