Tag Archives: Ben Jonson

Marginalia, no.219

………………………………He will make
Nature ashamed of her long sleep: when art,
Who’s but a stepdame, shall do more than she,
In her best love to mankind, ever could.

~ Ben Jonson, The Alchemist

Some people pride themselves on being “early adopters” of new technologies. I tend to be among the late-if-ever. True, I sometimes find myself coveting this or that fresh gadget. The feeling usually passes. The last thing I need is another screen to sink my eyes into, another wire to plug into my ears. What I do need are more trees and rocks and water. More living things. None of our digital alchemies equal even the most homely sparrow pecking through the trash or the worst imaginable winter afternoon. A napping mother is always better than a stepmom bearing Greekish gifts.


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Marginalia, no.165

………………………….These bleared-eyes
Have waked, to read your several colours, sir,
Of the pale citron, the green lion, the crow,
The peacock’s tail, the plumed swan.

~ Ben Jonson, The Alchemist

The alchemical stages.  For its centuries of tending fire toward miraculous transmutations, panaceas, alkahests, and (in the words of the 1771 Britannica) ‘other things equally ridiculous,’ the only sure glory of alchemy was the creation of a universal metaphor.  It is mystical enlightenment, psychological synthesis, discipline of the body, anything you like.  Writers and readers, too, coax base symbols (we hope) into golden life.  We sit up late, blear-eyed, obsessed, as words take form and color: ‘the pale citron, the green lion, the crow, the peacock’s tail, the plumed swan.’

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