Posts filed under ‘John Donne’

Holy Sonnet 6

John Donne


This is my play's last scene, here heavens appoint
My pilgrimage's last mile; and my race
Idly, yet quickly run, hath this last pace,
My span's last inch, my minute's latest point,
And gluttonous death, will instantly unjoint
My body, and soul, and I shall sleep a space;
But my ever-waking part shall see that face,
Whose fear already shakes my every joint:
Then, as my soul, to heaven her first seat, takes flight,
And earth-born body, in the earth shall dwell,
So fall my sins that all may have their right,
To where they're bred, and would press me, to hell.
Impute me righteous, thus purged of evil,
For thus I leave the world, the flesh, the devil.

One more Donne sonnet, before I move on to other things (a series of poems about Art is in the offing). This one is, in my opinion, less impressive on the whole, but I love the opening lines – both the immediacy of them and their finality. 

June 12, 2006 at 2:11 am 1 comment

Holy Sonnet 14

John Donne


Batter my heart, three-person'd God; for, you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but oh, to no end,
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue,
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy,
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthral me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Pavi's recording of Rilke two weeks back made me think of this Donne sonnet, if only for the 'Love poems to God' connection.

This is a fascinating take on that theme, not only because of the intensely physical, almost brutal way that Donne connects the idea of lover and God, but because of the baroqueness of the poem's contradictions, the back and forth of its opposites, the sense of disquiet, of dissonance, that Donne creates through his inversions. The poem is all of 14 lines long, but the logic of it is complex, even tortuous, and its lines lend themselves to almost endless exploration, so that you can read this poem again and again, discovering new joys in it each time you do.

(Note: Text taken from "John Donne: The Complete English Poems", edited by A.J.Smith, Penguin, 1971)


June 3, 2006 at 12:50 am Leave a comment

The Flea

John Donne


MARK but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is ;
Me it sucked first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea, our two bloods mingled be;
Confess it, this cannot be said
A sin, or shame, or loss of maidenhead,
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pampered swells with one blood made of two,
And this, alas, is more than we would do.

O stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, nay more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is.
Though parents grudge, and you, we’re met,
And cloister’d in these living walls of jet.
Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to this, self-murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail, in blood of innocence?
In what could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it suck’d from thee?
Yet thou triumph’st, and say’st that thou
Find’st not thyself, nor me the weaker now.
‘Tis true, then learn how false fears be;
Just so much honour, when thou yield’st to me,
Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.

Hatshepsut’s comment to Marvell’s ‘To his coy mistress’ made me decide I’d put this delightful Donne poem up as well.

It’s not the world’s most romantic poem. In fact, I can safely say, even with my limited experience, that as strategies to get a woman into bed go, comparing sex to being bitten by a flea is pretty much a non-starter. Yet it’s a marvellous example of the way logic is used in metaphysical poetry, the breathtaking cleverness of it, the unanswerable wit. Donne takes a conceit that seems implausible, even impossible, as a basis for a love poem, yet he manages to develop it into three whole stanzas of impeccably rational (if slightly gross) argument for why all the arguments his mistress uses to deny him her bed can be lightly brushed aside. Rather like a flea.


June 1, 2006 at 12:30 am Leave a comment

Death be not proud (Holy Sonnet X)

John Donne


Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so,
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure: then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

See commentary on Minstrels.

February 23, 2006 at 10:13 pm 8 comments