Drink to me only with thine eyes

One of the best known poems by the English poet Ben Jonson, who lived from 1573 to 1637, is “To Celia,” which later became famous as a song, though it seems no one is sure who composed the music. Here are the words:

Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup
And I’ll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove’s nectar 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!

(If you want, you can hear Elisabeth Schwarzkopf singing the song.)

The poem’s first word is drink, which in Spanish is beber, a descendant of the synonymous Latin verb bibere. In addition to the literal beber, Spanish has the figurative compound embeber, meaning ‘to soak up, take in.’ English speakers recognize the equivalent in imbibe, which can be literal or metaphorical. Definitely figurative, and certainly in tune with Ben Jonson’s poem, is Spanish embebecer ‘to fascinate, enchant,’ probably originally a reference to the effects of drinking too much alcohol. The connection to alcohol is definitely there in Spanish bebido and the English equivalent drunk.

Those in English-speaking countries who are too young to imbibe alcoholic drinks, or even to speak, can still get in on the act (etymologically speaking, which we’ll allow): Middle English transformed Latin bibere into the verb bibben ‘to drink heartily,’ from which most likely came the bib that soaks up spilled liquid.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: And drink some more « Spanish-English Word Connections

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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