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Blotted Lines

Ben Jonson, copy of original portrait by Abraham van Blijenberch (1617)

The players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare that [ . . . ] he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been, “Would he had blotted a thousand.”—Ben Jonson

Jonson's right! In As You Like It,

That Swan of Avon writes, e.g.,

With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,

. . .

In springtime, the only pretty ring time,

When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding . . .

Tweety birds chiming on perches?

Junk from a clockwork rubbish pail,

Makes the actors' tipsy lurches

Pastoral . . . in this makeshift wail.


Restrain if you can the double dutch

Synecdoche—that's much too much!

Do not strong-arm the shy refrain

—sad songs cast out do not obtain.

Write what you must to have your fill,

Author words that have free will,

Baggage, heirs, and can keep time.

Say no to every trite design!

What's wanted’s some terrific line,

The mot that only you set free

(like "igneous cliff" or "ironwood tree");

Conveniently, a smart-ass phrase

0n darkling days in obscure woods.

Her cockamamie bill of goods,

The muse presents—a tidy sum!

O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon

(Milton, “The Blindness of Sampson").

But look on the bright side of doom,


I’ll see you later.

An earlier version of this poem appears in the February 2024 issue of the New English Review;


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