Verse > John Donne > The Poems of John Donne
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John Donne (1572–1631).  The Poems of John Donne.  1896.
 
An Anatomy of the World
The First Anniversary
 
WHEN that rich soul which to her heaven is gone,
Whom all do celebrate, who know they’ve one
—For who is sure he hath a soul, unless
It see, and judge, and follow worthiness,
And by deeds praise it? he who doth not this,        5
May lodge an inmate soul, but ’tis not his—
When that queen ended here her progress time,
And, as to her standing house, to heaven did climb
Where, loth to make the saints attend her long,
She’s now a part both of the choir and song,        10
This world in that great earthquake languished;
For in a common bath of tears it bled,
Which drew the strongest vital spirits out.
But succour’d then 1 with a perplexed doubt,
Whether the world did lose, or gain in this        15
—Because, since now no other way there is,
But goodness, to see her, whom all would see,
All must endeavour to be good as she—
This great consumption to a fever turn’d,
And so the world had fits; it joy’d, it mourn’d;        20
And as men think that agues physic are,
And th’ ague being spent, give over care;
So thou, sick world, mistakest thyself to be
Well, when, alas! thou’rt in a lethargy.
Her death did wound and tame thee then, and then        25
Thou might’st have better spared the sun, or man.
That wound was deep, but ’tis more misery,
That thou hast lost thy sense and memory.
’Twas heavy then to hear thy voice of moan,
But this is worse, that thou art speechless grown.        30
Thou hast forgot thy name thou hadst; thou wast
Nothing but she, and her thou hast o’erpast.
For, as a child kept from the fount, until
A prince, expected long, come to fulfil
The ceremonies, thou unnamed hadst laid,        35
Had not her coming thee her palace made.
Her name defined thee, gave thee form and frame,
And thou forget’st to celebrate thy name.
Some months she hath been dead—but being dead,
Measures of time are all determined—        40
But long she hath been away, long, long, yet none
Offers to tell us who it is that’s gone.
But as in states doubtful of future heirs,
When sickness without remedy impairs
The present prince, they’re loth it should be said,        45
The prince doth languish, or the prince is dead.
So mankind, feeling now a general thaw,
A strong example gone, equal to law,
The cement, which did faithfully compact
And glue all virtues, 2 now resolved and slack’d,        50
Thought it some blasphemy to say she was dead,
Or that our weakness was discovered
In that confession; therefore spoke no more,
Than tongues, the soul being gone, the loss deplore.
But though it be too late to succour thee,        55
Sick world, yea dead, yea putrefied, since she,
Thy intrinsic balm and thy preservative,
Can never be renew’d, thou never live,
I—since no man can make thee live—will try
What we may gain by thy Anatomy.        60
Her death hath taught us dearly, that thou art
Corrupt and mortal in thy purest part.
Let no man say, the world itself being dead,
’Tis labour lost to have discovered
The world’s infirmities, since there is none        65
Alive to study this dissection;
For 3 there’s a kind of world remaining still;
Though she, which did inanimate and fill
The world, be gone, yet in this last long night
Her ghost doth walk, that is, a glimmering light,        70
A faint weak love of virtue and of good
Reflects from her, on them which understood
Her worth; and though she have shut in all day,
The twilight of her memory doth stay;
Which, from the carcase of the old world free,        75
Creates a new world, and new creatures be
Produced; the matter and the stuff of this
Her virtue, and the form our practice is.
And, though to be thus elemented arm
These creatures from home-born intrinsic harm        80
—For all assumed unto this dignity
So many weedless paradises be,
Which of themselves produce no venomous sin,
Except some foreign serpent bring it in—
Yet because outward storms the strongest break,        85
And strength itself by confidence grows weak,
This new world may be safer, being told
The dangers and diseases of the old. 4
For with due temper men do then forego, 5
Or covet things, when they their true worth know.        90
There is no health; 6 physicians say that we,
At best, enjoy but a neutrality.
And can there be worse sickness than to know
That we are never well, nor can be so?
We are born ruinous; poor mothers cry        95
That children come not right, nor orderly,
Except they headlong come and fall upon
An ominous precipitation.
How witty’s ruin, how importunate
Upon mankind! it labour’d to frustrate        100
Even God’s purpose, and made woman, sent
For man’s relief, cause of his languishment.
They were to good ends, and they are so still,
But accessory, and principal in ill;
For that first marriage was our funeral;        105
One woman, at one blow, then kill’d us all;
And singly, one by one, they kill us now.
We do delightfully ourselves allow
To that consumption; and, profusely blind,
We kill ourselves to propagate our kind.        110
And yet we do not that; we are not men;
There is not now that mankind which was then,
When as the sun and man did seem to strive
—Joint-tenants of the world—who should survive; 7
When stag, and raven, and the long-lived tree,        115
Compared with man, died in minority;
When if a slow-paced star had stolen away
From the observer’s marking, he might stay
Two or three hundred years to see it again,
And then make up his observation plain;        120
When, as the age was long, the size was great;
Man’s growth confess’d, and recompensed the meat;
So spacious and large, that every soul
Did a fair kingdom and large realm control;
And when the very stature, thus erect,        125
Did that soul a good way towards heaven direct.
Where is this mankind now? who lives to age
Fit to be made Methusalem his page?
Alas! we scarce live long enough to try
Whether a true-made clock run right, or lie.        130
Old grandsires talk of yesterday with sorrow;
And for our children we reserve to-morrow.
So short is life, that every peasant strives,
In a torn house, or field, to have three lives;
And as in lasting, so in length is man,        135
Contracted to an inch, who was a span. 8
For had a man at first in forests stray’d,
Or shipwreck’d in the sea, one would have laid
A wager, that an elephant or whale,
That met him, would not hastily assail        140
A thing so equal to him; now, alas!
The fairies and the pigmies well may pass
As credible; mankind decays so soon,
We’re scarce our fathers’ shadows cast at noon.
Only death adds to our length; nor are we grown        145
In stature to be men, till we are none.
But this were light, did our less volume hold
All the old text; or had we changed to gold
Their silver, or disposed into less glass
Spirits of virtue, which then scatter’d was.        150
But ’tis not so; we’re not retired, but damp’d;
And, as our bodies, so our minds are cramp’d.
’Tis shrinking, not close weaving that hath thus
In mind and body both bedwarfed us.
We seem ambitious God’s whole work to undo;        155
Of nothing He made us, and we strive too
To bring ourselves to nothing back; and we
Do what we can to do ’t so soon as He.
With new diseases on ourselves we war,
And with new physic, a worse engine far.        160
This man, 9 this world’s vice-emperor, in whom
All faculties, all graces are at home
—And if in other creatures they appear,
They’re but man’s ministers and legates there,
To work on their rebellions, and reduce        165
Them to civility, and to man’s use—
This man, whom God did woo, and, loth to attend
Till man came up, did down to man descend;
This man so great, that all that is, is his,
O, what a trifle, and poor thing he is!        170
If man were anything, he’s nothing now.
Help, or at least some time to waste, allow
To his other wants, yet when he did depart
With her whom we lament, he lost his heart.
She, of whom th’ ancients seemed to prophesy,        175
When they called virtues by the name of she;
She, in whom virtue was so much refined,
That for allay unto so pure a mind
She took the weaker sex; she that could drive
The poisonous tincture, and the stain of Eve,        180
Out of her thoughts and deeds, and purify
All by a true religious alchemy;
She, she is dead; she’s dead; when thou know’st this
Thou know’st how poor a trifling thing man is,
And learn’st thus much by our Anatomy,        185
The heart being perish’d, no part can be free,
And that except thou feed, not banquet, on
The supernatural food, religion,
Thy better growth grows withered and scant;
Be more than man, or thou’rt less than an ant.        190
Then as mankind, so is the world’s whole frame,
Quite out of joint, almost created lame;
For before God had made up all the rest,
Corruption enter’d and depraved the best.
It seized the angels, and then first of all        195
The world did in her cradle take a fall,
And turn’d her brains, and took a general maim,
Wronging each joint of th’ universal frame.
The noblest part, man, felt it first; and then
Both beasts and plants, cursed in the curse of man.        200
So did the world from the first hour decay; 10
That evening was beginning of the day.
And now the springs and summers which we see,
Like sons of women after fifty be.
And new philosophy calls all in doubt;        205
The element of fire is quite put out;
The sun is lost, and th’ earth, and no man’s wit
Can well direct him where to look for it.
And freely men confess that this world’s spent,
When in the planets, and the firmament        210
They seek so many new; they see that this
Is crumbled out again to his atomies.
’Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone,
All just supply, and all relation.
Prince, subject, father, son, are things forgot,        215
For every man alone thinks he hath got
To be a phœnix, and that then can be 11
None of that kind of which he is, but he.
This is the world’s condition now, and now
She that should all parts to reunion bow;        220
She that had all magnetic force alone,
To draw and fasten sunder’d parts in one;
She whom wise nature had invented then,
When she observed that every sort of men
Did in their voyage in this world’s sea stray,        225
And needed a new compass for their way;
She that was best, and first original
Of all fair copies, and the general
Steward to fate; she whose rich eyes and breast
Gilt the West Indies, and perfumed the East;        230
Whose having breathed in this world did bestow
Spice on those isles, and bade them still smell so;
And that rich Indy, which doth gold inter,
Is but as single money coin’d from her;
She to whom this world must itself refer,        235
As suburbs, or the microcosm of her;
She, she is dead; she’s dead; when thou know’st this,
Thou know’st how lame a cripple this world is;
And learn’st thus much by our Anatomy,
That this world’s general sickness doth not lie        240
In any humour, or one certain part,
But as thou saw’st it, rotten at the heart.
Thou seest a hectic fever hath got hold
Of the whole substance, not to be controll’d;
And that thou hast but one way, not to admit        245
The world’s infection—to be none of it.
For the world’s subtlest immaterial parts
Feel this consuming wound and age’s darts;
For the world’s beauty is decay’d, or gone 12
—Beauty; that’s colour and proportion.        250
We think the heavens enjoy their spherical,
Their round proportion, embracing all;
But yet their various and perplexed course,
Observed in divers ages, doth enforce
Men to find out so many eccentric parts,        255
Such diverse downright lines, such overthwarts,
As disproportion that pure form; it tears
The firmament in eight-and-forty shares,
And in these constellations then arise
New stars, and old do vanish from our eyes;        260
As though heaven suffered earthquakes, peace or war,
When new towers rise, and old demolish’d are.
They have impaled within a zodiac
The free-born sun, and keep twelve signs awake
To watch his steps; the Goat and Crab control,        265
And fright him back, who else to either pole,
Did not these tropics fetter him, might run.
For his course is not round, nor can the sun
Perfect a circle, or maintain his way
One inch direct; but where he rose to-day        270
He comes no more, but with a cozening line,
Steals by that point, and so is serpentine;
And seeming weary with his reeling 13 thus,
He means to sleep, being now fallen nearer us.
So of the stars which boast that they do run        275
In circle still, none ends where he begun.
All their proportion ’s lame, it sinks, it swells;
For of meridians and parallels
Man hath weaved out a net, and this net thrown
Upon the heavens, and now they are his own.        280
Loth to go up the hill, or labour thus
To go to heaven, we make heaven come to us.
We spur, we rein the stars, and in their race
They’re diversely content to obey our pace. 14
But keeps the earth her round proportion still?        285
Doth not a Teneriffe 15 or higher hill
Rise so high like a rock, that one might think
The floating moon would shipwreck there and sink?
Seas are so deep that whales, being struck to-day,
Perchance to-morrow scarce at middle way        290
Of their wish’d journey’s end, the bottom, die.
And men, to sound depths, so much line untie
As one might justly think that there would rise
At end thereof one of th’ antipodes.
If under all a vault infernal be        295
—Which sure is spacious, except that we
Invent another torment, that there must
Millions into a straight hot room be thrust—
Then solidness and roundness have no place.
Are these but warts and pockholes in the face        300
Of th’ earth? Think so; but yet confess, in this
The world’s proportion disfigured is;
That those two lees whereon it doth rely, 16
Reward and punishment, are bent awry.
And, O, it can no more be questioned,        305
That beauty’s best proportion is dead,
Since even grief itself, which now alone
Is left us, is without proportion.
She, by whose lines proportion should be
Examined, measure of all symmetry,        310
Whom had that ancient seen, who thought souls made
Of harmony, he would at next have said
That harmony was she, and thence infer
That souls were but resultances from her,
And did from her into our bodies go,        315
As to our eyes the forms from objects flow;
She, who if those great doctors truly said
That th’ ark to man’s proportion was made,
Had been a type for that, as that might be
A type of her in this, that contrary        320
Both elements and passions lived at peace
In her, who caused all civil war to cease.
She, after whom what form soe’er we see
Is discord and rude incongruity;
She, she is dead; she’s dead; when thou know’st this,        325
Thou know’st how ugly a monster this world is;
And learn’st thus much by our Anatomy,
That here is nothing to enamour thee;
And that not only faults in inward parts,
Corruptions in our brains, or in our hearts,        330
Poisoning the fountains whence our actions spring,
Endanger us; but that if everything
Be not done fitly and in proportion,
To satisfy wise and good lookers-on
—Since most men be such as most think they be—        335
They’re loathsome too, by this deformity.
For good, and well, must in our actions meet;
Wicked is not much worse than indiscreet.
But beauty’s other second element,
Colour and lustre, now is as near spent.        340
And had the world his just proportion,
Were it a ring still, yet the stone is gone.
As a compassionate turquoise, which doth tell,
By looking pale, the wearer is not well;
As gold falls sick being stung with mercury,        345
All the world’s parts of such complexion be.
When nature was most busy, the first week,
Swaddling the new-born earth, God seem’d to like
That she should sport herself sometimes, and play,
To mingle and vary colours every day;        350
And then, as though she could not make enow,
Himself his various rainbow did allow.
Sight is the noblest sense of any one;
Yet sight hath only colour to feed on,
And colour is decay’d; summer’s robe grows        355
Dusky, and like an oft dyed garment shows.
Our blushing red, which used in cheeks to spread,
Is inward sunk, and only our souls are red.
Perchance the world might have recovered,
If she whom we lament had not been dead.        360
But she, in whom all white, and red, and blue
(Beauty’s ingredients) voluntary grew,
As in an unvex’d paradise; from whom
Did all things’ verdure, and their lustre come;
Whose composition was miraculous,        365
Being all colour, all diaphanous,
For air and fire but thick gross bodies were,
And liveliest stones but drowsy and pale to her;
She, she is dead; she’s dead; when thou know’st this,
Thou know’st how wan a ghost this our world is;        370
And learn’st thus much by our Anatomy,
That it should more affright than pleasure thee;
And that, since all fair colour then did sink,
’Tis now but wicked vanity, to think
To colour vicious deeds with good pretence, 17        375
Or with bought colours to illude men’s sense.
Nor in ought more this world’s decay appears,
Than that her influence the heaven forbears,
Or that the elements do not feel this.
The father or the mother barren is;        380
The clouds conceive not rain, or do not pour,
In the due birth-time, down the balmy shower;
Th’ air doth not motherly sit on the earth,
To hatch her seasons, and give all things birth.
Spring-times were common cradles, but are tombs,        385
And false conceptions fill the general wombs.
Th’ air shows such meteors, as none can see,
Not only what they mean, but what they be;
Earth such new worms, as would have troubled much
Th’ Egyptian Mages to have made more such.        390
What artist now dares boast that he can bring
Heaven hither, or constellate anything,
So as the influence of those stars may be
Imprison’d in an herb, or charm, or tree,
And do by touch, all which those stars could do?        395
The art is lost, and correspondence too,
For heaven gives little, and the earth takes less,
And man least knows their trade and purposes.
If this commerce ’twixt heaven and earth were not
Embarr’d, and all this traffic quite forgot,        400
She, for whose loss we have lamented thus,
Would work more fully, and powerfully on us.
Since herbs and roots by dying lose not all,
But they, yea ashes too, are medicinal;
Death could not quench her virtue so, but that        405
It would be—if not follow’d—wonder’d at;
And all the world would be one dying swan,
To sing her funeral praise, and vanish then.
But as some serpents’ poison hurteth not,
Except it be from the live serpent shot,        410
So doth her virtue need her here, to fit
That unto us, she working more than it.
But she, in whom to such maturity
Virtue was grown, past growth, that it must die;
She, from whose influence all impression came,        415
But by receivers’ impotencies lame;
Who, though she could not transubstantiate
All states to gold, yet gilded every state,
So that some princes have some temperance;
Some counsellors, some purpose to advance        420
The common profit; and some people have
Some stay, no more than kings should give, to crave;
Some women have some taciturnity;
Some nunneries some grains of chastity;
She, that did thus much, and much more could do,        425
But that our age was iron, and rusty too,
(She, she is dead; she’s dead; when thou know’st this
Thou know’st how dry a cinder this world is;
And learn’st thus much by our Anatomy,
That ’tis in vain to dew, or mollify        430
It with thy tears, or sweat, or blood; nothing
Is worth our travail, grief, or perishing,
But those rich joys which did possess her heart,
Of which she’s now partaker, and a part.
But as in cutting up a man that’s dead, 18        435
The body will not last out, to have read
On every part, and therefore men direct
Their speech to parts that are of most effect;
So the world’s carcase would not last, if I
Were punctual in this Anatomy;        440
Nor smells it well to hearers, if one tell
Them their disease, who fain would think they’re well.
Here therefore be the end; and blessed maid,
Of whom is meant whatever has been said, 19
Or shall be spoken well by any tongue,        445
Whose name refines coarse lines, and makes prose song,
Accept this tribute, and his first year’s rent;
Who till his dark short taper’s end be spent,
As oft as thy feast sees this widow’d earth,
Will yearly celebrate thy second birth;        450
That is, thy death; for though the soul of man
Be got when man is made, ’tis born but then
When man doth die; our body ’s as the womb,
And as a mid-wife death directs it home.
And you, her creatures, whom she works upon,        455
And have your last and best concoction
From her example and her virtue, if you
In reverence to her do think it due,
That no one should her praises thus rehearse,
As matter fit for chronicle, not verse;        460
Vouchsafe to call to mind that God did make
A last and lasting’st piece, a song. He spake
To Moses to deliver unto all
That song, because He knew they would let fall
The law, the prophets, and the history,        465
But keep the song still in their memory.
Such an opinion, in due measure, made
Me this great office boldly to invade;
Nor could incomprehensibleness deter
Me from thus trying to imprison her;        470
Which when I saw that a strict grave could do,
I saw not why verse might not do so too.
Verse hath a middle nature; heaven keeps souls,
The grave keeps bodies, verse the fame enrolls.
 
Note 1. l. 14. 1650, succoured them [back]
Note 2. l. 50. 1650, give all virtues [back]
Note 3. What life the world hath still. [back]
Note 4. The sickness of the world. [back]
Note 5. l. 89. 1669, them forego [back]
Note 6. Impossibility of health. [back]
Note 7. Shortness of life. [back]
Note 8. Smallness of stature. [back]
Note 9. l. 161. So 1635; 1621, Thus man [back]
Note 10. Decay of nature in other parts. [back]
Note 11. l. 217. 1669, there can be [back]
Note 12. Disformity of parts. [back]
Note 13. l. 273. 1635, of his reeling [back]
Note 14. l. 284. So 1635; 1621, our peace [back]
Note 15. l. 286. 1633, a Tenarus [back]
Note 16. Disorder in the world. [back]
Note 17. Weakness in the want of correspondence of heaven and earth. [back]
Note 18. Conclusion. [back]
Note 19. l. 444. 1669, hath been said [back]
 
 
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