Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes

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"Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes" is a popular old song, the lyrics of which are English playwright Ben Jonson's 1616[1] poem "Song. To Celia."


John Addington Symonds demonstrated in The Academy 16 (1884) that almost every line has its counterpart in “Epistle xxxiii” of the erotic love-letter Epistles of Philostratus, The Athenian.[5] Richard Cumberland had, however, identified the link to "an obscure collection of love-letters" by Philostratus as early as 1791.[6] George Burke Johnston noted that "the poem is not a translation, but a synthesis of scattered passages. Although only one conceit is not borrowed from Philostratus, the piece is a unified poem, and its glory is Jonson's. It has remained alive and popular for over three hundred years, and it is safe to say that no other work by Jonson is so well known."[7] Another classical strain in the poem derives from Catullus.[8] In a brief notice J. Gwyn Griffiths noted the similarity of the conceit of perfume given to the rosy wreath in a poem in the Greek Anthology[9] and other classical parallels could be attested, natural enough in a writer of as wide reading as Jonson.


Willa McClung Evans suggested that Jonson's lyrics were fitted to a tune already in existence and that the fortunate marriage of words to music accounted in part for its excellence.[10] This seems unlikely since Jonson's poem was set to an entirely different melody in 1756 by Elizabeth Turner. Another conception is that the original composition of the tune was by John Wall Callcott in about 1790 as a glee for two trebles and a bass.[11] It was arranged as a song in the 19th century, apparently by Colonel Mellish (1777-1817). Later arrangements include those by Granville Bantock and Roger Quilter. Quilter's setting was included in the Arnold Book of Old Songs, published in 1950.

Versions and uses[edit]


  1. ^ The poem was printed that year, among the poems that compose "The Forrest" in the printed folio of Jonson's work.
  2. ^ Printed Iove's in the original. The initial J was coming into use in Johnston's time. The line is often mistranscribed "But might I of love's nectar sip."
  3. ^ Nectar and ambrosia were the food and drink of the Greek gods, conveying immortality.
  4. ^ Song: to Celia [“Drink to me only with thine eyes”], Poetry Foundation
  5. ^ Remarked by G.B. Johnston, Poems of Ben Jonson, 1960, "Introduction" p.xl; Johnston notes (p.331) that Symonds was forestalled in the identification by John F. M. Dovaston, in The Monthly Magazine 1815, 123f.
  6. ^ Richard Cumberland (1732-1811), The Observer: being a collection of moral, literary and familiar essays (Dublin: printed by Zachariah Jackson, for P. Byrne, R. Marchbank, J. Moore, and W. Jones, 1791). Volume 3, pp. 238-240.
  7. ^ Johnston 1960, p. xl.
  8. ^ Bruce Boehrer, "Ben Jonson and the 'Traditio Basiorum': Catullan Imitation in 'The Forrest' 5 and 6", Papers on Language & Literature 32 (1996): full bibliography.
  9. ^ Griffiths, "A Song from Philostratos", Greece & Rome, 11.33 (May 1942), pp. 135-136.
  10. ^ EvansBen Jonson and Elizaberthan Music, 1929, p.34.
  11. ^ Best Loved Songs of the American People, states (without evidence) that the tune is sometimes attributed to Mozart.
  12. ^ The original version is here[permanent dead link][permanent dead link] The Rabindra Sangeet is here[permanent dead link]

External links[edit]