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John Donne (1572–1631).  The Poems of John Donne.  1896.
 
Epicedes and Obsequies upon the Death of Sundry Personages
Elegy on the Lady Markham
 
MAN is the world, and death the ocean,
To which God gives the lower parts of man.
This sea environs all, and though as yet
God hath set marks and bounds ’twixt us and it,
Yet doth it roar, and gnaw, and still pretend,        5
And breaks our bank, 1 whene’er it takes a friend.
Then our land waters, tears of passion, vent;
Our waters, then, above our firmament
—Tears which our soul doth for her sins let fall—
Take all a brackish taste, and funeral.        10
And e’en those tears which should wash sin, are sin.
We, after God’s ‘No,’ drown 2 the world again.
Nothing but man of all envenom’d things
Doth work upon itself with inborn stings.
Tears are false spectacles; we cannot see,        15
Through passion’s mist, what we are or what she.
In her this sea of death hath made no breach,
But as the tide doth wash the slimy beach,
And leaves embroider’d works upon the sand,
So is her flesh refined by death’s cold hand.        20
As men of China, after an age’s stay,
Do take up porcelain, where they buried clay;
So at this grave, her limbec—which refines
The diamonds, rubies, sapphires, pearls and mines,
Of which this flesh was—her soul shall inspire        25
Flesh of such stuff, as God, when His last fire
Annuls this world, to recompense it, shall
Make and name then 3 th’ elixir of this all.
They say the sea, when it gains, loseth too;
If carnal death, the younger brother, do        30
Usurp the body, our soul, which subject is
To th’ elder death by sin, is freed by this.
They perish both, when they attempt the just;
For graves our trophies are, and both death’s dust.
So, unobnoxious now, she hath buried both;        35
For none to death sins, that to sin is loth;
Nor do they die, which are not loth to die;
So hath she this and that virginity.
Grace was in her extremely diligent,
That kept her from sin, yet made her repent.        40
Of what small spots pure white complains! Alas,
How little poison cracks a crystal glass!
She sinn’d but just enough to let us see
That God’s word must be true, ‘All, sinners be.’
So much did zeal her conscience rarify, 4        45
That extreme truth lacked little of a lie,
Making omissions acts, laying the touch
Of sin on things that sometime may be such.
As Moses’ cherubins, whose natures do
Surpass all speed, by him are winged too;        50
So would her soul, already in heaven, seem then
To climb by tears the common stairs of men.
How fit she was for God, I am content
To speak, that death his vain haste may repent.
How fit for us, how even and how sweet,        55
How good in all her titles, and how meet
To have reform’d this forward heresy,
That women can no parts of friendship be,
How moral, how divine, shall not be told,
Lest they that hear her virtues, 5 think her old;        60
And lest we take death’s part, and make him glad
Of such a prey, and to his triumph add.
 
Note 1. l. 6. 1669, to break our bank [back]
Note 2. l. 12. 1669, after God, now drown; Addl. MS. 18647, after God’s Noah [back]
Note 3. l. 28. 1669, name them [back]
Note 4. ll. 44–5. 1633 omits these lines, between the foot of one page and the head of the next. [back]
Note 5. l. 60. So 1633, 1669; 1635, virtue [back]
 
 
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