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John Donne
Letters in Verse



Letters in Verse


The Storm
To Mr. Christopher Brooke.

Thou which art I, ('tis nothing to be so)
Thou which art still thyself, by these shalt know
Part of our passage; and, a hand, or eye
By Hilliard drawn, is worth an history,
By a worse painter made; and (without pride)
When by thy judgement they are dignified,
My lines are such: 'tis the pre-eminence.
Of friendship only to impute excellence.
England to whom we owe, what we be, and have,
Sad that her sons did seek a foreign grave
(For, Fate's, or Fortune's drifts none can soothsay,
Honour and misery have one face and way)
From out her pregnant entrails sighed a wind
Which at th' air's middle marble room did find
Such strong resistance, thae itself it threw
Downward again; and so when it did view
How in the port, our fleet dear time did leese,
Withering like prisoners, which lie but for fees,
Mildly it kissed our sails, and, fresh and sweet,
As to a stomach starved, whose insides meet,
Meat comes, it came; and swole our sails, when we
So joyed, as Sara her swelling joyed to see.
But 'twas but so kind, as our countrymen,
Which bring friends one day's way, and leave them then.
Then like two mighty kings, which dwelling far
Asunder, meet against a third to war,
The south and west winds joined, and, as they blew,
Waves like a rolling trench before them threw.
Sooner than you read this line, did the gale,
Like shot, not feared till felt, our sails assail;
And what at first was called a gust, the same
Hath now a storm's, anon a tempest's name.
Jonas, I pity ehee, and curse those men,
Who when the storm raged most, did wake thee then;
Sleep is pain's easiest salve, and doth fulfil
All offices of death, except to kill.
But when I waked, I saw, that I saw not.
I, and the sun, which should teach me had forgot
East, west, day, night, and I could only say,
If the world had lasted, now it had been day.
Thousands our noises were, yet we 'mongst all
Could none by his right name, but thunder call:
Lightning was all our light, and it rained more
Than if the sun had drunk the sea before.
Some coffined in their cabins lie, equally
Grieved that they are not dead, and yet must die.
And as sin-burdened souls from graves will creep,
At the last day, some forth their cabins peep:
And tremblingly ask what news, and do hear so,
Like jealous husbands, what they would not know.
Some sitting on the hatches, would seem there,
With hideous gazing to fear away fear.
Then note they the ship's sicknesses, the mast
Shaked with this ague, and the hold and waist
With a salt dropsy clogged, and all our tacklings
Snapping, like too high stretched treble strings.
And from our tottered sails, rags drop down so,
As from one hanged in chains, a year ago.
Even our ordnance placed for our defence,
Strive to break loose, and 'scape away from thence.
Pumping hath tired our men, and what's the gain?
Seas into seas thrown, we suck in again;
Hearing hath deafed our sailors; and if they
Knew how to hear, there's none knows what to say.
Compared to these storms, death is but a qualm,
Hell somewhat lightsome, and the Bermuda calm.
Darkness, light's elder brother, his birth-right
Claims o'er this world, and to heaven hath chased light.
All things are one, and that one none can be,
Since all forms, uniform deformity
Doth cover, so that we, except God say
Another Fiat, shall have no more day.
So violent, yet long these furies be,
That though thine absence starve me, I wish not thee.

The Calm.

Our storm is past, and that storm's tyrannous rage,
A stupid calm, but nothing it, doth 'suage.
The fable is inverted, and far more
A block afflicts, now, than a stork before.
Storms chafe, and soon wear out themselves, or us;
In calms, heaven laughs to see us languish thus.
As steady as I can wish, that my thoughts were,
Smooth as thy mistress' glass, or what shines there,
The sea is now. And, as those Isles which we
Seek, when we can move, our ships rooted be.
As water did in storms, now pitch runs out
As lead, when a fired church becomes one spout.
And all our beauty, and our trim, decays,
Like courts removing, or like ended plays.
The fighting place now seamen's rags supply;
And all the tackling is a frippery.
No use of lanthorns; and in one place lay
Feathers and dust, today and yesterday.
Earth's hollownesses, which the world's lungs are,
Have no more wind than the upper vault of air.
We can nor lost friends, nor sought foes recover,
But meteor-like, save that we move not, hover.
Only the calenture together draws
Dear friends, which meet dead in great fishes' jaws:
And on the hatches as on altars lies
Each one, his own priest, and own sacrifice.
Who live, that miracle do multiply
Where walkers in hot ovens, do not die.
If in despite of these, we swim, that hath
No more refreshing, than our brimstone bath,
But from the sea, into the ship we turn,
Like parboiled wretches, on the coals to burn.
Like Bajazet encaged, the shepherd's scoff,
Or like slack-sinewed Samson, his hair off,
Languish our ships. Now, as a myriad
Of ants, durst th' Emperor's loved snake invade,
The crawling galleys, sea-gaols, finny chips,
Might brave our pinnaces, now bed-rid ships.
Whether a rotten state, and hope of gain,
Or, to disuse me from the queasy pain
Of being beloved, and loving, or the thirst
Of honour, or fair death, out pushed me first,
I lose my end: for here as well as I
A desperate may live, and a coward die.
Stag, dog, and all which from, or towards flies,
Is paid with life, or prey, or doing dies.
Fate grudges us all, and doth subtly lay
A scourge, 'gainst which we all forget to pray,
He that at sea prays for more wind, as well
Under the poles may beg cold, heat in hell.
What are we then? How little more alas
Is man now, than before he was! he was
Nothing; for us, we are for nothing fit;
Chance, or ourselves still disproportion it.
We have no power, no will, no sense; I lie,
I should not then thus feel this misery.

To Mr. S. B.

O thou which to search out the secret parts
   Of the India, or rather paradise
   Of knowledge, hast with courage and advice
Lately launched into the vast sea of arts,
Disdain not in thy constant travailing
   To do as other voyagers, and make
   Some turns into less creeks, and wisely take
Fresh water at the Heliconian spring;
I sing not, siren like, to tempt; for I
   Am harsh; nor as those schismatics with you,
   Which draw all wits of good hope to their crew;
But seeing in you bright sparks of poetry,
   I, though I brought no fuel, had desire
With these articulate blasts to blow the fire.

To Mr. I. L.

Of that short roll of friends writ in my heart
   Which with thy name begins, since their depart,
Whether in the English Provinces they be,
   Or drink of Po, Sequan, or Danuby,
There 's none that sometimes greets us not, and yet
   Your Trent is Lethe; that past, us you forget.
You do not duties of societies,
   If from the embrace of a loved wife you rise,
View your fat beasts, stretched barns, and laboured fields,
   Eat, play, ride, take all joys which all day yields,
And then again to your embracements go:
   Some hours on us your friends, and some bestow
Upon your Muse, else both we shall repent,
   I that my love, she that her gifts on you are spent.

To Mr. T. W.

Pregnant again with th' old twins hope, and fear,
Oft have I asked for thee, both how and where
Thou wert, and what my hopes of letters were;

As in the streets sly beggars narrowly
Watch motions of the giver's hand and eye,
And evermore conceive some hope thereby.

And now thy alms is given, thy letter is read,
The body risen again, the which was dead,
And thy poor starveling bountifully fed.

After this banquet my soul doth say grace,
And praise thee for it, and zealously embrace
Thy love, though I think thy love in this case
   To be as gluttons, which say 'midst their meat,
   They love that best of which they most do eat.

To Sir Henry Wotton.

Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls;
For, thus friends absent speak. This ease controls
The tediousness of my life: but for these
I could ideate nothing, which could please,
But I should wither in one day, and pass
To a bottle of hay, that am a lock of grass.
Life is a voyage, and in our life's ways
Countries, courts, towns are rocks, or remoras;
They break or stop all ships, yet our state's such,
That though than pitch they stain worse, we must touch.
If in the furnace of the even line,
Or under th' adverse icy poles thou pine,
Thou know'st two temperate regions girded in,
Dwell there: But Oh, what refuge canst thou win
Parched in the Court, and in the country frozen?
Shall cities, built of both extremes, be chosen?
Can dung and garlic be a perfume? or can
A scorpion and torpedo cure an man?
Cities are worst of all three; of all three
(O knotty riddle) each is worst equally.
Cities are sepulchres; they who dwell there
Are carcases, as if no such there were.
And Courts are theatres, where some men play
Princes, some slaves, all to one end, and of one clay.
The country is a desert, where no good,
Gained (as habits, not born,) is understood.
There men become beasts, and prone to more evils;
In cities blocks, and in a lewd Court, devils.
As in the first Chaos confusedly
Each element's qualities were in the other three;
So pride, lust, covetize, being several
To these three places, yet all are in all,
And mingled thus, their issue incestuous.
Falsehood is denizened. Virtue is barbarous.
Let no man say there, «Virtue's flinty wall
Shall lock vice in me, I'll do none, but know all.»
Men are sponges, which to pour out, receive,
Who know false play, rather than lose, deceive.
For in best understandings, sin began,
Angels sinned first, then devils, and then man.
Only perchance beasts sin not; wretched we
Are beasts in all, but white integrity.
I think if men, which in these place live
Durst look for themselves, and themselves retrieve,
They would like strangers greet themselves, seeing then
Utopian youth, grown old Italian.

Be then thine own home, and in thyself dwell;
Inn anywhere, continuance maketh hell.
And seeing the snail, which everywhere doth roam,
Carrying his own house still, still is at home,
Follow (for he is easy paced) this snail,
Be thine own palace, or the world's thy goal.
And in the world's sea, do not like cork sleep
Upon the water's face; nor in the deep
Sink like a lead without a line: but as
Fishes glide, leaving no print where they pass,
Nor making sound, so closely thy course go,
Let men dispute, whether thou breathe, or no.
Only in this one thing, be no Galenist: to make
Courts' hot ambitions wholesome, do not take
A dram of country's dullness; do not add
Correctives, but as chemics, purge the bad.
But, Sir, I advise not you, I rather do
Say o'er those lessons, which I learned of you:
Whom, free from German schisms, and lightness
Of France, and fair Italy's faithlessness,
Having from these sucked all they had of worth,
And brought home that faith, which you carried forth,
I throughly love. But if myself, I have won
To know my rules, I have, and you have

To the Countess of Bedford.

To have written then, when you writ, seemed to me
   Worst of spiritual vices, simony,
And not to have written then, seems little less
   Than worst of civil vices, thanklessness.
In this, my debt I seemed loth to confess,
   In that, I seemed to shun beholdingness.
But 'tis not so, nothings, as I am, may
   Pay all they have, and yet have all to pay.
Such borrow in their payments, and owe more
   By having leave to write so, than before.
Yet since rich mines in barren grounds are shown,
   May not I yield (not gold) but coal or stone?
Temples were not demolished, though profane:
   Here Peter Jove's, there Paul hath Dian's fane.
So whether my hymns you admit or choose,
   In me you have hallowed a pagan Muse,
And denizened a stranger, who mistaught
   By blamers of the times they marred, hath sought
Virtues in corners, which now bravelv do
   Shine in the world's best part, or all it; you.
I have been told, that virtue in courtiers' hearts
   Suffers an ostracism, and departs.
Profit, ease, fitness, plenty, bid it go,
   But whither, only knowing you, I know;
Your (or you) virtue, two vast uses serves,
   It ransoms one sex, and one Court preserves;
There's nothing but your worth, which being true,
   Is known to any other, not to you:
And you can never know it; to admit
   No knowledge of your worth, is some of it.
But since to you, your praises discords be,
   Stoop others' ills to meditate with me.
Oh! to confess we know not what we should,
   Is half excuse; we know not what we would.
Lightness depresseth us, emptiness fills,
   We sweat and faint, yet still go down the hills;
As new philosophy arrests the sun,
   And bids the passive earth about it run,
So we have dulled our mind, it hath no ends;
   Only the body's busy, and pretends;
As dead low earth eclipses and controls
   The quick high moon: so doth the body, souls.
In none but us, are such mixed engines found,
   As hands of double office: for, the ground
We till with them; and them to heaven we raise;
   Who prayerless labours, or, without this, prays,
Doth but one half, that's none; he which said, «Plough
   And look not back», to look up doth allow.
Good seed degenerates, and oft obeys
   The soil's disease, and into cockle strays.
Let the mind's thoughts be but transplanted so,
   Into the body, and bastardly they grow.
What hate could hurt our bodies like our love?
   We, but no foreign tyrants could, remove
These not engraved, but inborn dignities
   Caskets of souls; temples, and palaces:
For, bodies shall from death redeemed be,
   Souls but preserved, not naturally free.
As men to our prisons, new souls to us are sent,
   Which learn vice there, and come in innocent.
First seeds of every creature are in us,
   Whate'er the world hath bad, or precious,
Man's body can produce, hence hath it been
   That stones, worms, frogs, and snakes in man are seen:
But who e'er saw, though nature can work so,
   That pearl, or gold, or corn in man did grow?
We' have added to the world Virginia, and sent
   Two new stars lately to the firmament;
Why grudge we us (not heaven) the dignity
   T' increase with ours, those fair souls' company?
But I must end this letter, though it do
   Stand on two truths, neither is true to you.
Virtue hath some perverseness; for she will
   Neither believe her good, nor others' ill.
Even in you, virtue's best paradise,
   Virtue hath some, but wise degrees of vice.
Too many virtues, or too much of one
   Begets in you unjust suspicion.
And ignorance of vice, makes virtue less,
   Quenching compassion of our wretchedness.
But these are riddles; some aspersion
   Of vice becomes well some complexion.
Statesmen purge vice with vice, and may corrode
   The bad with bad, a spider with a toad:
For so, ill thralls not them, but they tame ill
   And make her do much good against her will,
But in your commonwealth, or world in you,
   Vice hath no office, or good work to do.
Take then no vicious purge, but be content
   With cordial virtue, your known nourishment.

Epitaph on Himself.

To the Countess of Bedford.

That I might make your cabinet my tomb,
   And for my fame which I love next my soul,
Next to my soul provide the happiest room,
   Admit to that place this last funeral scroll.
      Others by wills give legacies, but I
      Dying, of you do beg a legacy.


My fortune and my choice this custom break,
When we are speechless grown, to make stones speak,
Though no stone tell thee what I was, yet thou
In my grave's inside seest what thou art now:
Yet thou'art not yet so good, till death us lay
To ripe and mellow here, we are stubborn clay.
Parents make us earth, and souls dignify
Us to be glass; here to grow gold we lie.
Whilst in our souls sin bred and pampered is,
Our souls become worm-eaten carcases;
So we ourselves miraculously destroy.
Here bodies with less miracle enjoy
Such privileges, enabled here to scale
Heaven, when the trumpet's air shall them exhale.
Hear this, and mend thyself, and thou mend'st me,
By making me being dead, do good to thee,
   And think me well composed, that I could now
   A last-sick hour to syllables allow.
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