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
 
HONOUR is so sublime perfection,
And so refined, that when God was alone
And creatureless at first, Himself had none.
 
But as of th’ elements, these which we tread,
Produce all things with which we’re joyed or fed,        5
And those are barren both above our head;
 
So from low persons doth all honour flow;
Kings, whom they would have honour’d, to us show,
And but direct our honour, not bestow.
 
For when from herbs the pure part must be won        10
From gross, by ’stilling, this is better done
By despised dung, than by the fire of sun. 1
 
Care not then, madam, how low your praises lie;
In labourers’ ballads oft more piety
God finds, than in Te Deum’s melody;        15
 
And ordnance, raised on towers, so many mile
Send not their voice, nor last so long a while,
As fires from the earth’s low vaults in Sicil isle.
 
Should I say I lived darker than were true,
Your radiation can all clouds subdue;        20
But One, ’tis best light to contemplate you;
 
You, for whose body God made better clay,
Or took souls’ stuff, such as shall late decay,
Or such as needs small change at the last day.
 
This, as an amber drop enwraps a bee,        25
Covering discovers 2 your quick soul, that we
May in your through-shine front our hearts’ thoughts see.
 
You teach—though we learn not—a thing unknown
To our late times, the use of specular stone,
Through which all things within without were shown.        30
 
Of such were temples; so, and such you are;
Being and seeming is your equal care;
And virtue’s whole sum is but ‘Know’ and ‘Dare.’
 
But as our souls of growth and souls of sense
Have birthright of our reason’s soul, yet hence        35
They fly not from that, nor seek precedence,
 
Nature’s first lesson; so discretion
Must not grudge zeal a place, nor yet keep none,
Not banish itself, nor religion.
 
Discretion is a wise man’s soul, and so        40
Religion is a Christian’s, and you know
How these are one; her ‘Yea’ is not her ‘No.’ 3
 
Nor may we hope to solder still and knit
These two, and dare to break them; nor must wit
Be colleague to religion, but be it.        45
 
In those poor types of God, round circles, so
Religion’s types the pieceless centres flow,
And are in all the lines which all ways go.
 
If either ever wrought in you alone
Or principally, then religion        50
Wrought your ends, and your ways discretion.
 
Go thither still; go the same way you went;
Whoso would change, do covet 4 or repent;
Neither can reach you, great and innocent.
 
Note 1. l. 12. 1669, or Sun [back]
Note 2. l. 26. 1669, coverings discover [back]
Note 3. ll. 40–42. In 1635 these precede ll. 34–39. [back]
Note 4. l. 53. 1669, doth covet [back]
 
 
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