To Sir Henry Wotton

John Donne - 1572-1631

Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls,
For thus, friends absent speak. This ease controls
The tediousness of my life; but for these
I could ideate nothing which could please,
But I should wither in one day and pass
To a bottle of hay, that am a lock of grass.
Life is a voyage, and in our lives' ways
Countries, courts, towns are rocks, or remoras;
They break or stop all ships, yet our state's such,
That, though than pitch they stain worse, we must touch.
If in the furnace of the raging Line,
Or under th' adverse icy Pole thou pine,
Thou know'st two temperate regions, girded in,
Dwell there; but oh! what refuge canst thou win
Parched in the court and in the country frozen?
Shall cities built of both extremes be chosen?
Can dung or garlic be perfume? Or can
A scorpion or torpedo cure a man?
Cities are worst of all three; of all three
(Oh knotty riddle) each is worst equally.
Cities are sepulchres; they who dwell there
Are carcasses, as if no such they were;
And courts are theatres, where some men play
Princes, some slaves, all to one end, of one clay.
The country is a desert, where no good
Gained as habits, not born, is understood;
There men become beasts and prone to all evils;
In cities, blocks; and in a lewd court, devils.
As in the first Chaos confusedly,
Each element's qualities were in the other three,
So pride, lust, covetise, being several
To these three places, yet all are in all,
And mingled thus, their issue is incestuous:
Falsehood is denizen'd; Virtue is barbarous.
Let no man say there, "Virtue's flinty wall
Shall lock vice in me; I'll do none, but know all."
Men are sponges, which, to pour out, receive;
Who know false play, rather than lose, deceive.
For in best understandings sin began;
Angels sinned first, then devils, and then man.
Only perchance beasts sin not; wretched we
Are beasts in all but white integrity.
I think if men, which in these places live,
Durst look in themselves, and themselves retrieve,
They would like strangers greet themselves, seeing then
Utopian youth grown old Italian.
   Be then thine own home, and in thyself dwell;
Inn anywhere; continuance maketh hell.
And seeing the snail which everywhere doth roam,
Carrying his own house still, still is at home,
Follow (for he is easy paced) this snail,
Be thine own palace, or the world's thy jail.
And in the world's sea, do not like cork sleep
Upon the water's face; nor in the deep
Sink like a lead without a line; but as
Fishes glide, leaving no print where they pass,
Nor making sound, so closely thy course go;
Let men dispute whether thou breathe or no:
Only in this be no Galenist,—to make
Court's hot ambitions wholesome, do not take
A dram of country's dullness; do not add
Correctives, but, as chemics, purge the bad;
But, Sir, I advise not you, I rather do
Say o'er those lessons which I learn'd of you,
Whom, free from Germany schisms, and lightness
Of France, and fair Italy's faithlessness,
Having from these sucked all they had of worth,
And brought home that faith which you carried forth,
I thoroughly love; but if myself I've won
To know my rules, I have and you have
                                                          DONNE.

More by John Donne

The Baite

Come live with mee, and bee my love,
And wee will some new pleasures prove
Of golden sands, and christall brookes,
With silken lines, and silver hookes.

There will the river whispering runne
Warm'd by thy eyes, more than the Sunne.
And there the'inamor'd fish will stay,
Begging themselves they may betray.

When thou wilt swimme in that live bath,
Each fish, which every channell hath,
Will amorously to thee swimme,
Gladder to catch thee, than thou him.

If thou, to be so seene, beest loath,
By Sunne, or Moone, thou darknest both,
And if my selfe have leave to see,
I need not their light, having thee.

Let others freeze with angling reeds,
And cut their legges, with shells and weeds,
Or treacherously poore fish beset,
With strangling snare, or windowie net:

Let coarse bold hands, from slimy nest
The bedded fish in banks out-wrest,
Or curious traitors, sleavesilke flies
Bewitch poore fishes wandring eyes.

For thee, thou needst no such deceit,
For thou thy selfe art thine owne bait;
That fish, that is not catch'd thereby,
Alas, is wiser farre than I.

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
   And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
   "The breath goes now," and some say, "No,"

So let us melt, and make no noise,
   No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
'Twere profanation of our joys
   To tell the laity our love.

Moving of the earth brings harms and fears,
   Men reckon what it did and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
   Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers' love
   (Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
   Those things which elemented it.

But we, by a love so much refined
   That our selves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
   Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
   Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion.
   Like gold to airy thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
   As stiff twin compasses are two:
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
   To move, but doth, if the other do;

And though it in the center sit,
   Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
   And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
   Like the other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
   And makes me end where I begun.

Air and Angels

Twice or thrice had I loved thee,
Before I knew thy face or name;
So in a voice, so in a shapeless flame,
Angels affect us oft, and worshipped be;
   Still when, to where thou wert, I came,
Some lovely glorious nothing I did see,
   But since my soul, whose child love is,
Takes limbs of flesh, and else could nothing do,
   More subtle than the parent is
Love must not be, but take a body too,
   And therefore what thou wert, and who
     I bid love ask, and now
That it assume thy body, I allow,
And fix itself in thy lip, eye, and brow. 

Whilst thus to ballast love, I thought, 
And so more steadily to have gone,
With wares which would sink admiration,
I saw, I had love's pinnace overfraught,
   Every thy hair for love to work upon
Is much too much, some fitter must be sought;
   For, nor in nothing, nor in things
Extreme, and scatt'ring bright, can love inhere;
   Then as an angel, face and wings
Of air, not pure as it, yet pure doth wear,
   So thy love may be my love's sphere;
     Just such disparity
As is 'twixt air and angels' purity, 
'Twixt women's love, and men's will ever be.