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John Donne (1572–1631).  The Poems of John Donne.  1896.
 
Letters to Several Personages
To the Countess of Salisbury
 
August 1614

FAIR, great, and good, since seeing you we see
What heaven can do, what any 1 earth can be;
Since now your beauty shines; now, when the sun,
Grown stale, is to so low a value run,
That his dishevell’d beams, and scatter’d fires        5
Serve but for ladies’ periwigs and tires
In lovers’ sonnets, you come to repair
God’s book of creatures, teaching what is fair;
Since now, when all is wither’d, shrunk, and dried,
All virtues ebb’d out to a dead, low tide,        10
All the world’s frame being crumbled into sand,
Where every man thinks by himself to stand,
Integrity, friendship, and confidence,
Cements of greatness, being vapour’d hence,
And narrow man being fill’d with little shares,        15
Court, 2 city, church are all shops of smallwares;
All having blown to sparks their noble fire,
And drawn their sound gold ingot into wire;
All trying by a love of littleness
To make abridgments, and to draw to less        20
Even that nothing which at first we were;
Since in these times your greatness doth appear,
And that we learn by it, that man, to get
Towards Him that’s infinite, must first be great;
Since in an age so ill, as none is fit        25
So much as to accuse, much less mend it
—For who can judge, or witness of those times,
Where all alike are guilty of the crimes?
Where he that would be good, is thought by all
A monster, or at best fantastical—        30
Since now you durst be good, and that I do
Discern by daring to contemplate you,
That there may be degrees of fair, great, good,
Through your light, largeness, 3 virtue, understood;
If in this sacrifice of mine be shown        35
Any small spark of these, call it your own.
And if things like these have been said by me
Of others, call not that idolatry;
For had God made man first, and man had seen
The third day’s fruits and flowers, and various green,        40
He might have said the best that he could say
Of those fair creatures which were made that day;
And when next day he had admired the birth
Of sun, moon, stars, fairer than late-prais’d earth,
He might have said the best that he could say,        45
And not be chid for praising yesterday;
So though some things are not together true,
As, that another’s worthiest, and, that you;
Yet, to say so, doth not condemn a man,
If, when he spoke them, they were both true then.        50
How fair a proof of this in our soul grows;
We first have souls of growth and sense; and those,
When our last soul, our soul immortal, came,
Were swallow’d into it, and have no name.
Nor doth he injure those souls, which doth cast        55
The power and praise of both them on the last;
No more do I wrong any, if I adore
The same things now which I adored before,
The subject changed, and measure; the same thing
In a low constable, and in the king        60
I reverence, his power to work on me.
So did I humbly reverence each degree
Of fair, great, good, but more, now I am come
From having found their walks, to find their home.
And as I owe my first souls thanks, that they        65
For my last soul did fit and mould my clay,
So am I debtor unto them, whose worth
Enabled me to profit, and take forth
This new great lesson, thus to study you;
Which none, not reading others first, could do.        70
Nor lack I light to read this book, though I
In a dark cave, yea, in a grave do lie;
For as your fellow-angels, so you do
Illustrate them who come to study you.
The first whom we in histories do find        75
To have profess’d all arts, was one born blind;
He lack’d those eyes beasts have as well as we,
Not those by which angels are seen and see.
So, though I’m born without those eyes to live,
Which fortune, who hath none herself, doth give,        80
Which are fit means to see bright courts and you,
Yet, may I see you thus, as now I do,
I shall by that all goodness have discern’d,
And though I burn my library, be learn’d.
 
Note 1. l. 2. So 1635; 1633, and what any [back]
Note 2. l. 16. 1669, Courts [back]
Note 3. l. 34. 1669, light’s largeness [back]
 
 
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