Doing, a filthy pleasure is, and short;
And done, we straight repent us of the sport:
Let us not then rush blindly on unto it,
Like lustfull beasts, that onely know to doe it:
For lust will languish, and that heat decay,
But thus, thus, keeping endlesse Holy-day,
Let us together closely lie, and kisse,
There is no labour, nor no shame in this;
This hath pleas'd, doth please, and long will please; never
Can this decay, but is beginning ever.
Foeda est in coitu et brevis voluptas,
et taedet Veneris statim peractae.
Non ergo ut pecudes libidinosae
caeci protinus irruamus illuc;
(nam languescit amor peritque flamma);
sed sic sic sine fine feriati
et tecum jaceamus osculantes.
Hic nullus labor est ruborque nullus:
hoc juvit, juvat, et diu juvabit;
hoc non deficit, incipitque semper.
Anyone with any Latin will see how literal Jonson's translation is. But onto Petronius' fastidious Epicureanism there is an overlay of Judeo-Christian shame and guilt (rubor needn't mean more than blushing nor taedet more than being wearied). Both of course have the same strategy, that of never finishing something to be free from distasteful consequence. And neither could have anticipated our lucky escape from the Heat-Death of the Universe (law of entropy) to a continuing Big Bang or Inflationary Epoch. We who together closely lie and kiss come as close as mortals can to the happy figures on the Grecian Urn.
Petronius' hendecasyllables are quite artful but to a startlingly regular iambic line Jonson has added rhyme—rhyme which in the last couplet highlights the binary of finishing and beginning ("never"/"ever"). He also has a "kisse" that explodes into the aural experience of the poem and continues to live and last in the next (and last) three lines of the poem with its resounding echo "this".
As I said at our last meeting, to call anything the greatest out of such a large field is to be rhetorically provocative. What I wish to provoke with this evaluation is the deep musical satisfaction of a poem without "deep" image, indeed virtually without image of any sort whatsoever ("like lustfull beasts"). This is high heresy to all poetics since 1798 ("Lyrical Ballads"). This is all Goatfoot and Milktongue—Twinbird has flown the coop! And what would be a numbing metrical regularity (only disturbed at the outset by the trochee "Doing") is transcended by a flexibility of phrasing that spills over these feet as a high wave over rocks.
a filthy pleasure is
we straight repent us of the sport
Rather than re-lineate the whole poem this way I offer a challenge … or an exercise, a challenging exercise. Set your metronome at 40 bpm and read the poem. I take 30 beats. (Note: not every line has three beats, and key words often occur off beat.)