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 Huntingdon
 
THAT unripe side of earth, that heavy clime,
That gives us man up now, like Adam’s time
Before he ate, man’s shape, that would yet be
—Knew they not it, and feared beasts’ company—
So naked at this day, as though man there        5
From paradise so great a distance were,
As yet the news could not arrivèd be
Of Adam’s tasting the forbidden tree,
Deprived of that free state which they were in,
And, wanting the reward, yet bear the sin.        10
  But, as from extreme heights who downward looks,
Sees men at children’s shapes, rivers at brooks,
And loseth younger forms; so, to your eye,
These, madam, that without your distance lie,
Must either mist or nothing seem to be,        15
Who are, at home, but wit’s mere Atomi.
But I, who can behold them move, and stay,
Have found myself to you, just their midway;
And now must pity them; for, as they do
Seem sick to me, just so must I to you.        20
Yet neither will I vex your eyes to see
A sighing ode, nor cross-arm’d elegy.
I come not to call pity from your heart,
Like some white-liver’d dotard that would part
Else from his slippery soul with a faint groan,        25
And faithfully, without you smiled, 1 were gone.
I cannot feel the tempest of a frown;
I may be raised by love, but not thrown down;
Though I can pity those sigh twice a day,
I hate that thing whispers itself away.        30
Yet since all love is fever, 2 who to trees
Doth talk, doth yet 3 in love’s cold ague freeze.
’Tis love, but with such fatal weakness made,
That it destroys itself with its own shade.
Who first looked sad, grieved, pined, and shew’d his pain,        35
Was he that first taught women to disdain.
  As all things were one nothing, 4 dull and weak,
Until this raw disorder’d heap did break,
And several desires led parts away,
Water declined with earth, the air did stay,        40
Fire rose, and each from other but untied,
Themselves unprison’d were and purified;
So was love, first in vast confusion hid,
An unripe willingness which nothing did,
A thirst, an appetite which had no ease,        45
That found a want, but knew not what would please.
What pretty innocence in those days 5 moved!
Man ignorantly walk’d by her he loved;
Both sigh’d and interchanged a speaking eye;
Both trembled and were sick; both knew not 6 why.        50
That natural fearfulness that struck man dumb,
Might well—those times consider’d—man become.
As all discoverers, whose first essay
Finds but the place—after, the nearest way,
So passion is to woman’s love, about,        55
Nay, farther off, than when we first set out.
It is not love that sueth, or doth contend;
Love either conquers, or but meets a friend;
Man’s better part consists of purer fire,
And finds itself allow’d, ere it desire.        60
Love is wise here, keeps home, gives reason sway,
And journeys not till it find summer-way.
A weather-beaten lover but once known,
Is sport for every girl to practise on.
Who strives through woman’s scorns women to know,        65
Is lost, and seeks his shadow to outgo.
It must be 7 sickness after one disdain,
Though he be call’d aloud, to look again.
Let others sin and grieve; one cunning slight
Shall freeze my love to crystal in a night.        70
I can love first, and, if I win, love still;
And cannot be removed, unless she will.
It is her fault if I unsure remain,
She only can untie, I bind again.
The honesties of love with ease I do,        75
But am no porter for a tedious woe.
  But, madam, I now think on you; and here
Where we are at our heights, you but appear.
We are but clouds, you rise from our noon-ray,
But a foul shadow, not your break of day.        80
You are at first hand all that’s fair and right,
And others’ good reflects but back your light.
You are a perfectness, so curious hit,
That youngest flatteries do scandal it.
For, what is more doth what you are restrain,        85
And though beyond, is down the hill again.
We’ve no next way to you, we cross to it;
You are the straight line, thing praised, attribute.
Each good in you’s a light; so many a shade
You make, and in them are your motions made.        90
These are your pictures to the life. From far
We see you move, and here your zanies are;
So that no fountain good there is, doth grow
In you, but our dim actions faintly show.
  Then find I, if man’s noblest part be love,        95
Your purest lustre must that shadow move.
The soul with body is a heaven combined
With earth, and for man’s ease, but 8 nearer join’d;
Where thoughts, the stars of soul, we understand;
We guess not their large natures, but command.        100
And love in you that bounty is of light,
That gives to all, and yet hath infinite;
Whose heat doth force us thither to intend,
But soul we find too earthly to ascend,
’Till slow access hath made it wholly pure,        105
Able immortal clearness to endure.
Who dare aspire this journey with a stain,
Hath weight will force him headlong back again.
No more can impure man retain and move
In that pure region of a worthy love,        110
Than earthly substance can unforced aspire,
And leave his nature to converse with fire.
  Such may have eye, and hand; may sigh, may speak;
But, like swoll’n bubbles, when they’re highest they break.
Though far removed northern fleets 9 scarce find        115
The sun’s comfort, others think him too kind. 10
There is an equal distance from her eye;
Men perish too far off, and burn too nigh.
But as air takes the sun-beams equal bright,
From the first rays 11 to his last opposite,        120
So happy [’s] man, 12 blest with a virtuous love,
Remote or near, or howsoe’er they move.
There 13 virtue breaks all clouds that might annoy;
There is no emptiness, but all is joy.
He much profanes whom valiant heats do move        125
To style his wandering rage of passion, Love.
Love that imparts 14 in everything delight,
Is fancied in the soul, not in the sight. 15
Why love among the virtues is not known
Is, that love is them all contracted one. 16        130
 
Note 1. l. 26. 1669, without you smile [back]
Note 2. l. 31. 1669, is feverish [back]
Note 3. l. 32. 1669, yet doth [back]
Note 4. l. 37. 1669, were but one nothing [back]
Note 5. l. 47. 1669, that day [back]
Note 6. l. 50. 1669, yet knew not [back]
Note 7. l. 67. 1669, It is mere [back]
Note 8. l. 98. 1669 omits but [back]
Note 9. l. 115. 1669, northern isles [back]
Note 10. l. 116. 1669, The sun’s sweet comfort, yet some think him too kind [back]
Note 11. l. 120. 1669, the ray’s first [back]
Note 12. l. 121. So Grosart; 1635, able man; 1669, happy man [back]
Note 13. l. 123. 1669, Their [back]
Note 14. l. 127. 1669, imports [back]
Note 15. l. 128. So 1650; 1635 omits all after fancied; 1669, by the soul, not appetite [back]
Note 16. l. 130. 1650, contract in one [back]
 
 
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