Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes

"Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes" is a popular English song, set to the lyrics of 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 the Epistles of Philostratus,[2] notably Epistle xxx. Richard Cumberland had, however, identified the link to "an obscure collection of love-letters" by Philostratus as early as 1791.[3] 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."[4] Another classical strain in the poem derives from Catullus.[5] 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[6] 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.[7]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.[8]

It was arranged as a song in the 19th century, apparently by Colonel Mellish, and again arranged as a song by Granville Bantock.



Drink to me only with thine eyes,
     And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss within the cup
     And I'll not ask for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
     Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove's[9] nectar[10] sup,
     I would not change for thine.

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
     Not so much honouring thee
As giving it a hope that there
     It could not withered be;
But thou thereon didst only breathe,
     And sent'st it back to me;
Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,
     Not of itself but thee!

Versions and uses

  • Sir Walter Scott used the tune for another song, "County Guy".
  • The song was a chestnut in American student musical performances in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In liner notes, Johnny Cash says that this song was one of the first that he ever sang at a public engagement — at commencement exercise when a high school junior. (A version of the song was recorded privately by Cash at his home recording studio and released posthumously on the album Personal File.) Cash previously recorded a song called "Drink To Me," loosely based on this song.
  • In 1926, Gwen Farrar (1899-1944) performed the song in a short film made in the Phonofilm sound-on-film process.
  • The song features unflatteringly in the 1936 Merrie Melodies short subject "I Love to Singa" as the selection young "Owl Jolson's" parents force him to perform in his lessons rather than the title number much to his chagrin and dismay. Warner Bros., which distributed (and later produced) the Merrie Melodies series (and sister series Looney Tunes), would later use this song as incidental music in the TV series Baby Looney Tunes, particularly when one of the characters is drinking milk, water or juice, or even pretending to drink tea.
  • The song was performed by Paul Robeson in his album "Ballad for Americans and Great Songs of Faith, Love and Patriotism", Vanguard Records.
  • Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel Prize-winning Indian poet, adapted the tune in his poem "Katabar Bhebechinu." A popular Bengali vocalist Swagatalakhsmi Dasgupta sang both the versions.[11]


  1. ^ The poem was printed that year, among the poems that compose "The Forrest" in the printed folio of Jonson's work.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Johnston 1960, p. xl.
  5. ^ Bruce Boehrer, "Ben Jonson and the 'Traditio Basiorum': Catullan Imitation in 'The Forrest' 5 and 6", Papers on Language & Literature 32 (1996): full bibliography.
  6. ^ Griffiths, "A Song from Philostratos", Greece & Rome, 11.33 (May 1942), pp. 135-136.
  7. ^ EvansBen Jonson and Elizaberthan Music, 1929, p.34.
  8. ^ Best Loved Songs of the American People, states (without evidence) that the tune is sometimes attributed to Mozart.
  9. ^ Printed Iove's in the original. The initial J was coming into use in Jonson's time. The line is often mistranscribed "But might I of love's nectar sup."
  10. ^ Nectar and ambrosia were the food and drink of the Greek gods, conveying immortality.
  11. ^ The original version is here The Rabindra Sangeet is here

External links

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