Primary Resource

Upon Sejanus (1604)

The following is a prefatory sonnet, contributed by William Strachey, to a 1604 publication of Ben Jonson's Sejanus His Fall, a play first performed at the Globe in 1603 by William Shakespeare and his company. The journalist John St. Loe Strachey later called the poem "one of the most cryptic things in Elizabethan literature." William Strachey later served as secretary to the Virginia colony in Jamestown.

Transcription from Original

  • How high a poor man showes in low estate
  • Whose base is firme, and whole frame competent,
  • That sees this Cedar, made the shrub of fate,
  • Th'on's little, lasting: Th'other's confluence spent.
  • And as lightning comes behind the thunder
  • From the torn cloud, yet first invades our sense,
  • So every violent fortune, that to wonder
  • Hoists men aloft, is a cleere evidence
  • Of a vaunt-curring blow the fates have given
  • To his forst state: swift lightning blindes his eyes,
  • While thunder from comparison-hating heaven
  • Dischargeth on his height, and there it lies:
  • If men will shun swolne Fortunes ruinous blastes,
  • Let them use Temperance. Nothing violent lastes.

William Strachey.