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Sons of Ben

In: English and Literature

Submitted By angelasilvax3
Words 1125
Pages 5
The British Renaissance era was the birthplace of many writers inspired by the artistic and cultural movement that was taking place between the 15th and 17th century. Within this period, there was a little place called the Mermaid Tavern, right in the heart of London. Here, a group of men, who would later become some of the most renowned writers from the Renaissance era, would gather around and discuss literature. This network of friends was led by the famous Ben Jonson, so it comes to no surprise the group would acquire the name Sons of Ben. During these informal meetings, these writers would discuss their views on literature, what influences them, and how they can influence each other. Sons of Ben promoted a cavalieristic style of writing that was not very common in this time period; Sir John Suckling and Robert Herrick were just some of the men who participated in the group and grew to be considered some of England’s finest writers. Ben Johnson, both a friend and rival of Shakespeare at the time, was the core of Sons of Ben. Jonson’s work revolved primarily around the emerging urban society. He often wrote about intelligence in the form of understanding, rejecting narrow mindedness, fanaticism, extremism, and snobbery. A famous piece of his titled Come My Celia demonstrates this by telling of a story about a love that should be acted upon in the moment without worrying about the rumors that would fly around about them. Jonson was considered a cavalier poet, someone who aimed to express the joy and simple gratification of celebratory things much livelier than the traditional works of their predecessors. The intent of their works was often to promote the crown, specifically King Charles I. In fact, Jonson was so into the idea of cavalier poetry, he etched the phrase Leges Conviviales, meaning ‘Rules of Conviviality’ above the mantelpiece in the room where the Sons of Ben would gather. This was the only formal “rule” for the followers and it was a rule that went unbroken.
Sir John Suckling was a member of Sons of Ben and the influence of cavalier beliefs was evident in his work. A famous piece by the poet titled Why so Pale and Wan Fond Lover is a great example illustrating his cavalier style. The poem goes:
'Why so pale and wan, fond lover?
Prithee, why so pale?—
Will, when looking well can't move her,
Looking ill prevail?
Prithee, why so pale?
Why so dull and mute, young sinner?
Prithee, why so mute?--
Will, when speaking well can't win her, Saying nothing do't?
Prithee, why so mute?
Quit, quit, for shame! this will not move,
This cannot take her--
If of herself she will not love,
Nothing can make her:
The Devil take her!'
Briefly, this piece is about a boy who can’t win the heart and attention of a woman. The narrator is speaking in true cavalier form, telling the boy that he needs to move on. He then finishes the poem by damning the woman to hell. This particular poem follows cavalier ideas because it concentrated on the pleasures of the moment. Cavalier poets were inclined to say what they meant in clear terms, and this poem does just that. There is evidence to support that Sir John Suckling picked up this style of writing through the influence of Ben Jonson during his time in the group. In addition to Suckling, another cavalier poet birthed from the Sons of Ben was Robert Herrick. Herrick was a cavalier poet who was very much inspired by the phrase carpe diem, meaning ‘seize the day.’ An example of his cavalier work and his beliefs in carpe diem is illustrated in his poem To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time. The poem reads:
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying :
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may go marry:
For having lost but once your prime
You may for ever tarry.
Herrick demonstrates a cavalier attitude when he writes about a woman’s fears of growing old. The narrator is telling the woman to live in the moment and to do as she pleases. He encourages her to simply “seize the moment” while she is young, even encouraging her to lose her virginity (“dying” is Elizabethan slang for having an orgasm). This type of behavior demonstrates a cavalier poet’s attitude towards life. More evidence of cavalier influences comes from the poem’s short refined verses that are fairly simple and generally easygoing, which is a characteristic of cavalier writing. Like Sir John Suckling, Robert Herrick found his style of writing during his time with Sons of Ben. The British Renaissance period brought about many fabulous writers, each with their own unique style of writing. One of these styles was cavalier poetry. Writer Ben Jonson was a famous advocate of cavalier poetry and imposed these writing ideas on his followers through meetings at a local tavern. This group of men was to be known later as the Sons of Ben and they included famous poets such as Sir John Suckling and Robert Herrick. These men wrote about living in the moment and being open minded. This is a style that is widely used today and modern day literature can only thank these 17th century writers for introducing it into the mainstream.

"Cavalier Poet." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Jan. 2014. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <>.

Notari, Debbie. "Cavalier Poetry: Definition, Characteristics & Examples." N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <>.

Shmoop Editorial Team. "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time (Gather Ye Rosebuds): Stanza 1 Summary." Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <>.

"Sons of Ben (literary Group)." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Jan. 2013. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <>.

"Sons of Ben [Tribe of Ben] (act. C.1620–c.1629) by Martin Butler." Oxford DNB Article: Sons of Ben 2013-09. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2014. <>.

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