Verse > John Donne > The Poems of John Donne
John Donne (1572–1631).  The Poems of John Donne.  1896.
Satire IV. “Well; I may now receive, and die”
WELL; I may now receive, and die. My sin
Indeed is great, but yet 1 I have been in
A purgatory, such as fear’d hell is
A recreation and scant map of this.
My mind, nor with 2 pride’s itch, nor yet hath been        5
Poison’d with love to see, or to be seen.
I had no suit there, nor new suit to show,
Yet went to court; but as Glaze 3 which did go
To mass in jest, catch’d, was fain to disburse
The hundred marks, which is the statute’s curse,        10
Before he ’scaped; so ’t pleased my destiny—
Guilty of my sin in going—to think me
As prone to all ill, and of good as forget-
Full, as proud, lustful, and as much in debt,
As vain, as witless, and as false as they        15
Which dwell in court, for once going that way.
Therefore I suffer’d this; towards me did run
A thing more strange, than on Nile’s slime the sun
E’er bred, or all which into Noah’s ark came;
A thing which would have posed Adam to name;        20
Stranger than seven antiquaries’ studies,
Than Afric’s monsters, Guiana’s rarities;
Stranger than strangers; one, who for a Dane,
In the Danes’ massacre had sure been slain,
If he had lived then; and without help dies,        25
When next the ’prentices ’gainst strangers rise;
One, whom the watch, at noon, lets scarce go by;
One, to whom th’ examining justice sure would cry,
‘Sir, by your priesthood, tell me what you are.’
His clothes were strange, though coarse, and black, though bare;        30
Sleeveless his jerkin was, and it had been
Velvet, but ’twas now—so much ground was seen—
Become tufftaffaty; and our children shall
See it plain rash awhile, then nought at all.
The thing hath travell’d, and, faith, speaks all tongues,        35
And only knoweth what to all states belongs.
Made of th’ accents and best phrase of all these,
He speaks one language. If strange meats displease,
Art can deceive, or hunger force my taste,
But pedants’ motley tongue, soldiers’ bombast,        40
Mountebanks’ drug-tongue, nor the terms of law
Are strong enough preparatives, to draw
Me to bear this, 4 yet I must be content
With his tongue, in his tongue, called compliment;
In which he can win widows, and pay scores,        45
Make men speak treason, cozen subtlest whores,
Outflatter favourites, or outlie either
Jovius, or Surius, or both together.
He names me, and comes to me; I whisper, ‘God!
How have I sinn’d, that Thy wrath’s furious rod,        50
This fellow, chooseth me?’ He saith, ‘Sir,
I love your judgment; whom do you prefer,
For the best linguist?’ And I sillily
Said, that I thought Calepine’s dictionary.
‘Nay, but of men, most sweet Sir;’ Beza then,        55
Some Jesuits, and two reverend men
Of our two Academies I named. Here
He stopped me, and said; ‘Nay, your apostles were
Good pretty linguists, and so Panurge was; 5
Yet a poor gentleman all these may pass        60
By travel.’ 6 Then, as if he would have sold
His tongue, he praised it, and such wonders 7 told,
That I was fain to say, ‘If you’d lived, sir,
Time enough to have been interpreter
To Babel’s bricklayers, sure the tower had stood.’        65
He adds, ‘If of court life you knew the good,
You would leave loneness.’ I said, ‘Not alone
My loneness 8 is; but Spartan’s fashion,
To teach by painting drunkards, doth not taste
Now; Aretine’s pictures have made few chaste;        70
No more can princes’ courts—though there be few
Better pictures of vice—teach me virtue.’
He, like to a high-stretched lute-string, squeak’d, ‘O sir,
’Tis sweet to talk of kings.’ ‘At Westminster,’
Said I, ‘the man that keeps the abbey tombs,        75
And for his price doth with whoever comes
Of all our Harrys and our Edwards talk,
From king to king, and all their kin can walk.
Your ears shall hear nought but kings; your eyes meet
Kings only; the way to it is King’s street.’        80
He smack’d and cried, ‘He’s base, mechanic, coarse,
So are all your Englishmen in their discourse.
Are not your Frenchmen neat? Mine, as you see,
I have but one, sir, look—he follows me.’ 9
‘Certes they’re neatly clothed. I of this mind am,        85
Your only wearing is your grogaram.’
‘Not so, sir, I have more.’ Under this pitch
He would not fly; I chafed 10 him. But as itch
Scratched into smart, and as blunt iron ground
Into an edge, hurts worse; so I, fool, found        90
Crossing hurt me. To fit my sullenness,
He to another key his style doth dress, 11
And asks, ‘What news?’ I tell him of new plays.
He takes my hand, and as a still which stays
A semi-breve, ’twixt each drop, he niggardly,        95
As loth to enrich me, so tells many a lie,
More than ten Holinsheds, or Halls, or Stows,
Of trivial household trash. He knows; he knows
When the Queen frown’d, or smiled, and he knows what
A subtle statesman may gather of that;        100
He knows who loves whom; and who by poison
Hastes to an office’s reversion;
He knows who hath sold his land, and now doth beg
A licence, old iron, boots, shoes, and egg-
Shells to transport; shortly boys shall not play        105
At span-counter, or blow-point, but shall pay
Toll to some courtier; and wiser than all us,
He knows what lady is not painted. Thus
He with home meats cloys me. 12 I belch, spew, spit,
Look pale and sickly, like a patient, yet        110
He thrusts on more; and as he’d undertook 13
To say Gallo-Belgicus without book,
Speaks of all states and deeds that have been since
The Spaniards came, to the loss of Amiens.
Like a big wife, at sight of loathèd meat,        115
Ready to travail, so I sigh and sweat
To hear this Macaron talk. In vain; for yet,
Either my humour, or his own to fit,
He, like a privileged spy, whom nothing can
Discredit, libels now ’gainst each great man.        120
He names a price for every office paid;
He saith, our wars thrive ill, because delay’d;
That offices are entail’d, and that there are
Perpetuities of them, lasting as far
As the last day; and that great officers        125
Do with the pirates share, and Dunkirkers.
Who wastes in meat, in clothes, in horse, he notes;
Who loves whores, who boys, and who goats.
I more amazed than Circe’s prisoners, when
They felt themselves turn beasts, felt myself then        130
Becoming traitor, and methought I saw
One of our giant statutes ope his jaw
To suck me in, for hearing him I found
That as burnt venom 14 lechers do grow sound
By giving others their sores, I might grow        135
Guilty, and he free; 15 therefore I did show
All signs of loathing; but since I am in,
I must pay mine and my forefathers’ sin
To the last farthing. Therefore to my power
Toughly and stubbornly I bear this cross; but th’ hour        140
Of mercy now was come; he tries to bring
Me to pay a fine to ’scape his torturing,
And says, ‘Sir, can you spare me’—I said, ‘Willingly’;
‘Nay, sir, can you spare me a crown’? Thankfully I
Gave it, as ransom; but as fiddlers, still,        145
Though they be paid to be gone, yet needs will
Thrust one more jig upon you; so did he
With his long complimental thanks vex me.
But he is gone, thanks to his needy want,
And the prerogative of my crown; scant        150
His thanks were ended, when I—which did see
All the court fill’d with more strange things than he—
Ran from thence with such, or more haste than one
Who fears more actions doth haste from prison.
At home, in wholesome solitariness,        155
My piteous 16 soul began the wretchedness
Of suitors at court to mourn, and a trance
Like his, who dreamt he saw hell, did advance
Itself o’er me; 17 such men as he saw there,
I saw at court, and worse, and more. Low fear        160
Becomes the guilty, not th’ accuser; then
Shall I, none’s slave, of high-born or raised men
Fear frowns? and, my mistress Truth, betray thee
To huffing, braggart, puffed nobility? 18
No, no; thou which since yesterday hast been        165
Almost about the whole world, hast thou seen,
O sun, in all thy journey, vanity
Such as swells the bladder of our court? I
Think he which made your waxen garden, and
Transported it, from Italy, to stand        170
With us at London, flouts our courtiers, 19 for
Just such gay painted things, which no sap nor
Taste have in them, ours are; and natural
Some of the stocks are, their fruits bastard all.
’Tis ten a-clock and past; all whom the mews,        175
Baloun, tennis, diet, or the stews
Had all the morning held, now the second
Time made ready that day, in flocks are found 20
In the presence, and aye—God pardon me—
As fresh and sweet their apparels be, as be        180
The fields they sold to buy them. ‘For a king
Those hose are,’ cry the flatterers; 21 and bring
Them next week to the theatre to sell.
Wants reach all states. Meseems they do as well
At stage as court; all are players; whoe’er looks        185
—For themselves dare not go—o’er Cheapside books
Shall find their wardrobe’s inventory. Now,
The ladies come. As pirates, which do know
That there came weak ships fraught with cochineal,
The men board them; and praise, as they think, well        190
Their beauties; they, the men’s wits; both are bought.
Why good wits ne’er wear scarlet gowns, I thought
This cause; These men men’s wits for speeches buy,
And women buy all reds which scarlets dye.
He called her beauty lime-twigs, her hair net;        195
She fears her drugs ill laid, her hair loose set.
Would not Heraclitus laugh to see Macrine
From hat to shoe himself at door refine,
As if the presence were a mosque; and lift
His skirts and hose, and call his clothes to shrift,        200
Making them confess, not only mortal
Great stains and holes in them, but venial
Feathers and dust, wherewith they fornicate;
And then by Durer’s rules survey the state
Of his each limb, and with strings the odds tries        205
Of his neck to his leg, and waist to thighs?
So in immaculate clothes, and symmetry
Perfect as circles, with such nicety
As a young preacher at his first time goes
To preach, he enters, and a lady which owes        210
Him not so much as good will, he arrests,
And unto her protests, protests, protests,
So much as at Rome would serve to have thrown
Ten cardinals into th’ Inquisition;
And whispers 22 ‘By Jesu!’ so often, that a        215
Pursuivant would have ravish’d him away
For saying of our Lady’s psalter. But ’tis fit
That they each other plague; they merit it.
But here comes Glorius, that will plague them both,
Who in the other extreme, only doth        220
Call a rough carelessness good fashion;
Whose cloak his spurs tear, or 23 whom he spits on,
He cares not, he. 24 His ill words do no harm
To him, he rusheth 25 in, as if ‘Arm, arm!’
He came to cry; and though his face be as ill        225
As theirs, which in old hangings whip Christ, still
He strives to look worse; he keeps all in awe,
Jests like a licensed fool, commands like law.
Tired now I leave this place, and, but pleased so
As men from gaols to execution go,        230
Go through the great chamber—why is it hung
With the seven deadly sins?—being among
Those Ascaparts, men big enough to throw
Charing Cross for a bar, men that do know
No token of worth but ‘Queen’s man,’ and fine        235
Living, barrels of beef, flagons of wine, 26
I shook like a spied spy. Preachers, which are
Seas of wits and arts, you can, then dare
Drown the sins of this place, for, for me,
Which am but a scant brook, 27 it enough shall be        240
To wash the stains away. Although 28 I yet
With Machabee’s modesty the known merit
Of my work lessen; yet some wise man shall,
I hope, esteem my writs canonical.
Note 1. l. 2. So 1635; 1633 omits yet [back]
Note 2. l. 5. So 1635; 1633, 1650, neither with [back]
Note 3. l. 8. 1635, Glare [back]
Note 4. l. 43. 1669, to hear this [back]
Note 5. l. 59. 1669, so Panurgus was [back]
Note 6. l. 61. 1669, But travel [back]
Note 7. l. 62. So 1635; 1633, such words [back]
Note 8. ll. 67, 68. So 1635; 1633, loneliness [back]
Note 9. l. 84. So 1635; 1633, Fine, as you see, I have but one Frenchman, look, he follows me [back]
Note 10. l. 88. So 1669; 1633, chaffed [back]
Note 11. l. 92. So 1635; 1633, address [back]
Note 12. l. 109. So 1635; 1633, tries me [back]
Note 13. l. 111. So 1635; 1633, and as if he undertook [back]
Note 14. l. 134. So 1635; 1669, venomous [back]
Note 15. l. 136. 1633 omits the preceding two lines and the first half of this. They are supplied in 1635. [back]
Note 16. l. 156. So 1635; 1633, precious [back]
Note 17. l. 159. So 1635; 1633, on me [back]
Note 18. l. 164. 1669, To the huffing braggart, puff’d nobility [back]
Note 19. l. 171. So 1635; 1633, our presence [back]
Note 20. l. 178. 1635, were found [back]
Note 21. l. 182. 1635, his flatterers; 1669, cries the flatterer. [back]
Note 22. l. 215. So 1635; 1633, whispered [back]
Note 23. l. 222. So 1635; 1633 omits or [back]
Note 24. l. 223. So 1635; 1633 omits the second he [back]
Note 25. l. 224. 1650, rushes [back]
Note 26. l. 236. 1669, Living, barrels of beef, and flagons of wine [back]
Note 27. l. 240. So 1635; 1633, a scarce brook [back]
Note 28. l. 241. So 1635; 1633, Though [back]
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