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What is the meaning of the sonnet "Still to be neat" by Ben Jonson?

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Quick Answer

Ben Jonson's poem "Still to be neat, still to be dressed" discusses the meticulous fashion habits of a woman and ultimately proclaims that such habits obscure a person's true beauty. The poem's alternate title, "Simplex Munditiis," is a Latin phrase meaning "simple elegance." This title expresses the idea that the speaker prefers an artless beauty to an artificial one. This poem is not a sonnet, for sonnets have 14 lines.

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Full Answer

The word "still" in the poem's opening stanza means "always," so essentially the speaker is saying that the woman whom he is addressing is always wearing elegant clothes and making sure her makeup is perfect. The stanza ends with a skeptical observation about such exterior perfection, saying, "Though art's hid causes are not found, / All is not sweet, all is not sound." Essentially the speaker contends that superficial perfection necessarily hides some flaw.

The second stanza opens with commands to the woman to adopt a less artificial mien: "Give me a look, give me a face, / That makes simplicity a grace." He then explains that such "sweet neglect" is more attractive to him than all the "adulteries" of art. The use of the word "adulteries" here is telling, for the word can indicate falsity, but it also has echoes of romantic betrayal. The speaker closes by saying that makeup, fancy clothes and tightly bound hair are superficially attractive, but that they do not touch him emotionally.

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