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
A Funeral Elegy
 
’TIS loss 1 to trust a tomb with such a guest,
Or to confine her in a marble chest.
Alas! what’s marble, jet, or porphyry,
Prized with the chrysolite of either eye,
Or with those pearls and rubies which she was?        5
Join the two Indies in one tomb, ’tis glass;
And so is all, to her materials,
Though every inch were ten Escurials;
Yet she’s demolish’d; can we keep her then
In works of hands, or of the wits of men?        10
Can these memorials, rags of paper, give
Life to that name, by which name they must live?
Sickly, alas! short-lived, abortive 2 be
Those carcase verses, whose soul is not she;
And can she, who no longer would be she,        15
Being such a tabernacle stoop to be
In paper wrapp’d; or when she would not lie
In such an house, dwell in an elegy?
But ’tis no matter; we may well allow
Verse to live so long as the world will now,        20
For her death wounded it. The world contains
Princes for arms, and counsellors for brains,
Lawyers for tongues, divines for hearts, and more,
The rich for stomachs, and for backs the poor;
The officers for hands, merchants for feet,        25
By which remote and distant countries meet;
But those fine spirits, which do tune and set
This organ, are those pieces which beget
Wonder and love; and these were she; and she
Being spent, the world must needs decrepit be. 3        30
For since death will proceed to triumph still,
He can find nothing, after her, to kill,
Except the world itself, so great as she. 4
Thus brave and confident may nature be,
Death cannot give her such another blow,        35
Because she cannot such another show.
But must we say she’s dead? may ’t not be said,
That as a sunder’d clock is piecemeal laid,
Not to be lost, but by the maker’s hand
Repolish’d, without error then to stand,        40
Or as the Afric Niger stream enwombs
Itself into the earth, and after comes
—Having first made a natural bridge, to pass
For many leagues—far greater than it was,
May ’t not be said, that her grave shall restore        45
Her, greater, purer, firmer than before?
Heaven may say this, and joy in ’t, but can we
Who live, and lack her here, this vantage see?
What is ’t to us, alas! if there have been
An angel made a throne, or cherubin?        50
We lose by ’t: and as agèd men are glad
Being tasteless grown, to joy in joys they had,
So now the sick, starved world must feed upon
This joy, that we had her, who now is gone.
Rejoice then, nature, and this world, that you,        55
Fearing the last fires hastening to subdue
Your force and vigour, ere it were near gone,
Wisely bestow’d and laid it all on one;
One, whose clear body was so pure and thin,
Because it need disguise no thought within;        60
’Twas but a through-light scarf her mind to enroll,
Or exhalation breathed out from her soul;
One whom all men, who durst no more, admired;
And whom, whoe’er had worth enough, desired;
As when a temple’s built, saints emulate        65
To which of them it shall be consecrate.
But as, when heaven looks on us with new eyes,
Those new stars every artist exercise;
What place they should assign to them they doubt,
Argue, and agree not, till those stars go out;        70
So the world studied whose this piece should be,
Till she can be nobody’s else, nor she;
But like a lamp of balsamum, desired
Rather to adorn than last, she soon expired.
Clothed in her virgin white integrity        75
—For marriage, though it doth not stain, doth dye—
To ’scape th’ infirmities which wait upon
Woman, she went away before she was one;
And the world’s busy noise to overcome,
Took so much death as served for opium;        80
For though she could not, nor could choose to die,
She hath yielded to too long an ecstasy.
He which, not knowing her sad history,
Should come to read the book of destiny,
How fair, and chaste, humble and high she’d been,        85
Much promised, much perform’d, at not fifteen,
And measuring future things by things before,
Should turn the leaf to read, and read no more,
Would think that either destiny mistook,
Or that some leaves were torn out of the book.        90
But ’tis not so; fate did but usher her
To years of reason’s use, and then infer
Her destiny to herself, which liberty
She took, but for thus much, thus much to die.
Her modesty not suffering her to be        95
Fellow-commissioner with destiny,
She did no more but die; if after her
Any shall live, which dare true good prefer,
Every such person is her delegate,
To accomplish that which should have been her fate.        100
They shall make up that book, and shall have thanks
Of fate, and her, for filling up their blanks;
For future virtuous deeds are legacies,
Which from the gift of her example rise;
And ’tis in heaven part of spiritual mirth,        105
To see how well the good play her, on earth.
 
Note 1. l. 1. So 1635; 1621, ’Tis lost [back]
Note 2. l. 13. So 1635; 1621, aborted [back]
Note 3. Smallness of stature. [back]
Note 4. l. 33. 1625. so great she; 1633, so great was she [back]
 
 
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