Verse > John Donne > The Poems of John Donne
John Donne (1572–1631).  The Poems of John Donne.  1896.
Satire VII. To Sir Nicholas Smyth
SLEEP, next society and true friendship,
Man’s best contentment, doth securely slip
His passions, and the world’s troubles; rock me,
O sleep, wean’d from my 1 dear friend’s company,
In a cradle free from dreams or thoughts, there        5
Where poor men lie, for kings asleep do fear.
Here sleep’s house by famous Ariosto,
By silver-tongued Ovid, and many moe
—Perhaps by golden-mouthed Spenser too, pardie—
Which builded was some dozen stories high,        10
I had repair’d, but that it was so rotten,
As sleep awaked by rats from thence was gotten;
And I will build no new, for by my will
Thy father’s house shall be the fairest still
In Exeter. Yet, methinks, for all their wit,        15
Those wits that say nothing, best describe it.
Without it there is no sense; only in this
Sleep is unlike a long parenthesis.
Not to save charges, but would I had slept
The time I spent in London, when I kept        20
Fighting and untruss’d gallants’ company,
In which Natta, the new knight, seized on me,
And offered me th’ experience he had bought
With great expense. I found him thoroughly taught
In curing burns. His thing had had more scars        25
Than T—— himself; like Epps it often wars,
And still is hurt. For his body and state
The physic and counsel—which came too late
’Gainst whores and dice—he now on me bestows;
Most superficially he speaks of those.        30
I found by him, least sound, him who most knows.
He swears well, speaks ill, but best of clothes,
What fits summer, what winter, what the spring.
He had living, but now these ways come in
His whole revenues. Where his whore now dwells,        35
And hath dwelt, since his father’s death, he tells.
Yea, he tells most cunningly each hid cause
Why whores forsake their bawds. To these, some laws
He knows of the duel, and touch his skill 2
The least jot in that or these, he quarrel will,        40
Though sober, but ne’er fought. I know
What made his valour undubb’d windmill go,
Within a pint at most; yet for all this
—Which is most strange—Natta thinks no man is
More honest than himself. Thus men may want        45
Conscience, whilst being brought up ignorant,
They use themselves to vice. And besides those
Illiberal arts forenamed, no vicar knows
Nor other captain less than he; his schools
Are ordinaries, where civil men seem fools,        50
Or are for being there; his best books, plays,
Where, meeting godly scenes, perhaps he prays.
His first set prayer was for his father, ill 3
And sick—that he might die; that had, until
The lands were gone he troubled God no more,        55
And then ask’d him but his right—that the whore
Whom he had kept, might now keep him; she spent,
They left each other on even terms; she went
To Bridewell, he unto the wars, where want
Hath made him valiant, and a lieutenant        60
He is become; where, as they pass apace,
He steps aside, and for his captain’s place
He prays again—tells God he will confess
His sins; swear, drink, dice, and whore thenceforth less,
On this condition, that his captain die        65
And he succeed; but his prayer did not. They
Both cashier’d came home, and he is braver now
Than his captain; all men wonder, few know how;
Can he rob? ‘No.’ Cheat? ‘No.’ Or doth he spend
His own? ‘No; Fidus, he is thy dear friend;        70
That keeps him up.’ I would thou wert thine own,
Or hadst as good a friend as thou art one.
No present want, nor future hope made me
Desire, as once I did, thy friend to be;
But he had cruelly possess’d thee then,        75
And as our neighbours, the Low-Country men,
Being—whilst they were loyal, with tyranny
Oppress’d—broke loose, have since refused to be
Subject to good kings, I found even so,
Wert thou well rid of him, thou’dst have no moe.        80
Couldst thou but choose, as well as love, to none
Thou shouldst be second. Turtle and Damon
Should give thee place in songs, and lovers sick
Should make thee only love’s hieroglyphic.
Thy impress should be the loving elm and vine,        85
Where now an ancient oak with ivy twine.
Destroy’d thy symbol is! O dire mischance!
And O vile verse! And yet our Abraham Fraunce
Writes thus, and jests not. Good Fidus for this
Must pardon me; satires bite when they kiss.        90
But as for Natta, we have since fallen out;
Here on his knees he pray’d; else we had fought.
And because God would not he should be winner,
Nor yet would have the death of such a sinner,
At his seeking our quarrel is deferr’d.        95
I’ll leave him at his prayers, and, as I heard,
His last; and, Fidus, you and I do know
I was his friend, and durst have been his foe,
And would be either yet; but he dares be
Neither yet; sleep blots him out and takes in thee.        100
The mind, you know, is like a table-book;
The old unwiped, new writing never took.
Hear how the ushers’ checks, cupboard and fire,
I pass’d—by which degrees young men aspire
In court. And how that idle and she state        105
—When as my judgment cleared—my soul did hate;
How I found there—if that my trifling pen
Durst take so hard a task—kings were but men,
And by their place more noted, if they err;
How they and their lords unworthy men prefer;        110
And, as unthrifts, had rather give away
Great sums to flatterers, than small debts pay.
So they their greatness hide, and greatness show,
By giving them that which to worth they owe.
What treason is, and what did Essex kill,        115
Not true treason, but treason handled ill;
And which of them stood for their country’s good,
Or what might be the cause of so much blood;
He said she stunk; and men might not have said
That she was old before that she was dead.        120
His case was hard to do or suffer; loth
To do, he made it harder, and did both.
Too much preparing lost them all their lives;
Like some in plagues kill with preservatives.
Friends, like land soldiers in a storm at sea,        125
Not knowing what to do, for him did pray.
They told it all the world, where was their wit?
Cuffe’s putting on a sword might have told it.
And princes must fear favourites more than foes,
For still beyond revenge ambition goes.        130
How since her death with sumpter-horse that Scot
Hath rid, who, at his coming up, had not
  A sumpter-dog. But till that I can write
  Things worth thy tenth reading (dear Nick), good-night.
Note 1. l. 4. So St. MS.; 1669, thy [back]
Note 2. l. 39. So St. MS.; 1669, and on his skill [back]
Note 3. l. 53. So St. MS.; 1669, father’s ill [back]
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