Poetry: Thanksgiving

November 27, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT

ROBERT PINSKY: Eating together with friends and relatives can be an ordeal, or a height of civilized pleasure. The powerful combination of abundance and company drives Ben Jonson’s poem of about four hundred years ago, “Inviting a Friend to Supper.” He begins:

Tonight, grave sir, both my poor house, and I
Doe equally desire your company:
Not that we think us worthy such a guest,
But that your worth will dignify our feast,

Jonson lovingly elaborates the menu:

Yet shall you have, to rectify your palate,
An olive, capers, or some better salad
Ushering the mutton; with a short-leg ‘d hen,
If we can get her, full of eggs, and then,
Lemons, and wine for sauce: to these, a coney
Is not to be despaired of, for our money;
And, though fowl, now, be scarce, yet there are clarkes,
The sky not falling, think we may have larks.

The menu goes on, as fantasy:

I’ll tell you more, and lie, so you will come:
Of partridge, pheasant, wood-cock, of which some
May yet be there; and godwit, if we can:
Knat, rail, and ruffe too.

Jonson also inludes an interesting promise in his invitation:

And I’ll profess no verses to repeat . . .

Digestive cheese, and fruit there sure will bee;
But that, which most doth take my Muse, and me,
Is a pure cup of rich Canary-wine,
Which is the Mermaid’s, now, but shall be mine:
Of which had Horace, or Anacreon tasted,
Their lives, as do their lines, till now had lasted. . . .

Of this we will sup free, but moderately,
And we will have no Polly’, or Parrot by;
Nor shall our cups make any guilty men:
But, at our parting, we will be, as when
We innocently met. No simple word,
That shall be uttered at our mirthful board,
Shall make us sad next morning: or affright
The liberty, that we’ll enjoy tonight.

I wish you a festive Thanksgiving.