Poetry Wednesday: Hymn to the Belly

My parents are visiting this weekend, and since there’s no possibility of losing half my body weight before my mother arrives tomorrow evening, I decided the hell with it and turned to good ol’ Ben Jonson for some reassurance.

Ben Jonson (1572-1637) wrote poems I want to memorize and recite—no, orate*—while standing before a table of my good friends and lifting a mug of something suitably alcoholic in salute.

Whatever you might say about the man—does anyone still say anything about this man?  ‘Cause they should—he  had the 17th Century equivalent of chutzpah. In spades.

Hymn to the Belly
(Ben Jonson)

Room! Room! Make room for the bouncing Belly,
First father of sauce and deviser of jelly;
Prime master of arts and the giver of wit,
That found out the excellent engine, the spit,
The plough and the flail, the mill and the hopper,
The hutch and the boulter, the furnace and copper,
The oven, the bavin, the mawkin, the peel,
The hearth and the range, the dog and the wheel.
He, he first invented the hogshead and tun,
The gimlet and vice too, and taught ’em to run;
And since, with the funnel and hippocras bag,
He’s made of himself that now he cries swag;
Which shows, though the pleasure be but of four inches,
Yet he is a weasel, the gullet that pinches
Of any delight, and not spares from his back
Whatever to make of the belly a sack.
Hail, hail, plump paunch! O the founder of taste,
For fresh meats or powdered, or pickle or paste!
Devourer of broiled, baked, roasted or sod!
And emptier of cups, be they even or odd!
All which have now made thee so wide i’ the waist,
As scarce with no pudding thou art to be laced;
But eating and drinking until thou dost nod,
Thou break’st all thy girdles and break’st forth a god.

I might just have time to get this word perfect—with jazz hands, naturally—before tomorrow evening.

Jonson also had a bit to say about poetry itself, or at least the stuff that wasn’t up to his standards:

A Fit of Rhyme Against Rhyme
(Ben Jonson)

Rhyme, the rack of finest wits,
That expresseth but by fits
True conceit,

Spoiling senses of their treasure,
Cozening judgment with a measure,
But false weight ;

Wresting words from their true calling,
Propping verse for fear of falling
To the ground ;

Jointing syllables, drowning letters,
Fast’ning vowels as with fetters
They were bound !

Soon as lazy thou wert known,
All good poetry hence was flown,
And are banished.

For a thousand years together
All Parnassus’ green did wither,
And wit vanished.

Pegasus did fly away,
At the wells no Muse did stay,
But bewailed

So to see the fountain dry,
And Apollo’s music die,
All light failed !

Starveling rhymes did fill the stage ;
Not a poet in an age
Worth crowning ;

Not a work deserving bays,
Not a line deserving praise,
Pallas frowning ;

Greek was free from rhyme’s infection,
Happy Greek by this protection
Was not spoiled.

Whilst the Latin, queen of tongues,
Is not yet free from rhyme’s wrongs,
But rests foiled.

Scarce the hill again doth flourish,
Scarce the world a wit doth nourish
To restore

Phoebus to his crown again,
And the Muses to their brain,
As before.

Vulgar languages that want
Words and sweetness, and be scant
Of true measure,

Tyrant rhyme hath so abusëd,
That they long since have refusëd
Other cæsure.

He that first invented thee,
May his joints tormented be,
Cramped forever.

Still may syllables jar with time,
Still may reason war with rhyme,
Resting never.

May his sense when it would meet
The cold tumor in his feet,
Grow unsounder ;

And his title be long fool,
That in rearing such a school
Was the founder.


Roman Warrior by Fernando Botero.

*No.  Stop it.


12 thoughts on “Poetry Wednesday: Hymn to the Belly

  1. I’m dyin’. Hail, hail, plump paunch, with jazz hands!

    My mom looks at my bird’s nest of hair and shakes her head: You shouldn’t let yourself go, dear.

  2. Sarah, I love that Hymn to the Belly. Maybe I’ll join you in oration next time I stand in front of the mirror committing hate crimes of thought against my belly (and body).

    • Please do, Lizi! There’s few things worse than body hatred—it’s completely useless and counterproductive. And, unfortunately, completely addictive . . .

  3. There will be a meeting of this crew at some point and time and you, YOU, must be the first to stand up and orate. Love this and love this idea.

    As for moms all I have to add it, “Huh. So, you really like it grown out? And what color is that? Huh.”

    Urgh. Some say Chuztpah. I say Ajada. (Help a sister out, all I’ve got is phonetic spelling from my best friend’s grandma who gave me some of the most wonderful words that I have no idea how to spell….oy vey.)

    • I accept the honor! 🙂

      I’m guilty of being a Mom myself, so I probably shouldn’t throw stones—but that’s what kids do, right?

      Could it be Agita (as in, “All of his orating gives me agita.”)?

  4. This line, hail, hail, plump paunch! made me smile. Here, in my house, we definitely bow to the paunch. It rules us all.

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