Verse > John Donne > The Poems of John Donne
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John Donne (1572–1631).  The Poems of John Donne.  1896.
 
Letters to Several Personages
To the Countess of Bedford
 
  MADAM
You have refined me, and to worthiest things—
Virtue, art, beauty, fortune. Now I see
Rareness or use, not nature, value brings;
And such, as they are circumstanced, they be.
  Two ills can ne’er perplex us, sin to excuse;        5
  But of two good things we may leave and choose. 1
 
Therefore at court—which is not virtue’s clime,
Where a transcendent height (as lowness me)
Makes her not be, 2 or not show—all my rhyme
Your virtues challenge, which there rarest be;        10
  For, as dark texts need notes, there 3 some must be
  To usher Virtue, and say, “This is she.”
 
So in the country ’s beauty. To this place
You are the season, Madam, you the day;
’Tis but a grave of spices, till your face        15
Exhale them, and a thick close bud display;
  Widow’d and reclused else, her sweets she enshrines
  As China, when the sun at Brazil dines.
 
Out from your chariot morning breaks at night,
And falsifies both computations; so,        20
Since a new world doth rise here from your light,
We, your new creatures, by new reckonings go.
  This shows that you from nature lothly stray,
  That suffer not an artificial day.
 
In this you’ve made the court th’ antipodes,        25
And will’d your delegate, the vulgar sun,
To do profane autumnal offices,
Whilst here to you we sacrificers run;
  And whether priests or organs, you we obey;
  We sound your influence, and your dictates say.        30
 
Yet to that deity which dwells in you,
Your virtuous soul, I now not sacrifice;
These are petitions and not hymns; they sue
But that I may survey the edifice;
  In all religions as much care hath been        35
  Of temples’ frames and beauty, as rites within.
 
As all which go to Rome do not thereby
Esteem religions, and hold fast the best,
But serve discourse and curiosity,
With that which doth religion but invest;        40
  And shun th’ entangling labyrinths of schools,
  And make it wit, to think the wiser fools;
 
So in this pilgrimage I would behold
You as you’re Virtue’s temple, not as she;
What walls of tender crystal her enfold,        45
What eyes, hands, bosom, her pure altars be;
  And after this survey, oppose to all
  Babblers 4 of chapels, you, th’ Escurial.
 
Yet not as consecrate, but merely as fair;
On these I cast a lay and country eye.        50
Of past and future stories, which are rare,
I find you all record and prophecy.
  Purge but the book of Fate, that it admit
  No sad nor guilty legends—you are it.
 
If good and lovely were not one, of both        55
You were the transcript and original,
The elements, the parent, and the growth;
And every piece of you is both their all; 5
  So entire are all your deeds, and you, that you
  Must do the same things still; you cannot two.        60
 
But these—as nice thin school divinity 6
Serves heresy to further or repress—
Taste of poetic rage, or flattery;
And need not, where all hearts one truth profess.
  Oft from new proofs, and new phrase, new doubts grow,        65
  As strange attire aliens the men 7 we know.
 
Leaving then busy praise and all appeal 8
To higher courts, sense’s decree is true.
The mine, the magazine, the common-weal,
The story of beauty, in Twickenham is, and you.        70
  Who hath seen 9 one, would both; as, who had been
  In Paradise, would seek the cherubin.
 
Note 1. l. 6. 1669, or choose [back]
Note 2. l. 9. 1669, Makes her not see [back]
Note 3. l. 11. 1669, need notes some; there [back]
Note 4. l. 48. 1669, Builders [back]
Note 5. l. 58. 1635, worth their all [back]
Note 6. l. 61. 1669, nicest school divinity [back]
Note 7. l. 66. So 1633, 1669; 1635, alters the men [back]
Note 8. l. 67. 1669, lend all appeal [back]
Note 9. l. 71. 1639, hath been [back]
 
 
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