John Donne Poem

An Anatomy of the World, (‘Nothing could make me sooner’)

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An Anatomy of the World

Of the Progress of the Soul: The Second Anniversary

Nothing could make me sooner to confess

That this world had an everlastingness,

Than to consider, that a year is run,

Since both this lower world’s, and the sun’s sun,

The lustre and the vigour of this all

Did set; ’twere blasphemy to say, did fall.

But as a ship, which hath struck sail, doth run

By force of that force which before it won;

Or as sometimes in a beheaded man,

Though at those two Red Seas, which freely ran,

One from the trunk, another from the head,

His soul be sail’d to her eternal bed,

His eyes will twinkle, and his tongue will roll,

As though he beckon’d and call’d back his soul:

He grasps his hands, and he pulls up his feet,

And seems to reach, and to step forth to meet

His soul; when all these motions which we saw,

Are but as ice, which crackles at a thaw,

Or as a lute, which in moist weather rings

Her knell alone, by cracking of her strings.

So struggles this dead world, now she is gone;

For there is motion in corruption.

As some days are, at the creation, named

Before the sun, the which framed days, was framed,

So after this sun’s set, some show appears,

And orderly vicissitude of years.

Yet a new deluge, and of Lethe flood,

Hath drown’d us all; all have forgot all good,

Forgetting her, the main reserve of all.

Yet in this deluge, gross and general,

Thou seest me strive for life; my life shall be

To be hereafter praised, for praising thee.

Immortal maid, who though thou wouldst refuse

The name of mother, be unto my Muse

A father, since her chaste ambition is

Yearly to bring forth such a child as this.

These hymns may work on future wits, and so

May great-grandchildren of thy praises grow;

And so, though not revive, embalm and spice

The world, which else would putrify with vice.

For thus man may extend thy progeny,

Until man do but vanish, and not die.

These hymns thy issue may increase so long,

As till God’s great Venite change the song.

Thirst for that time, O my insatiate soul,

And serve thy thirst with God’s safe-sealing bowl;

Be thirsty still, and drink still till thou go

To th’ only health; to be hydroptic so,

Forget this rotten world; and unto thee

Let thine own times as an old story be.

Be not concern’d; study not why nor when;

Do not so much as not believe a man.

For though to err, be worst, to try truths forth

Is far more business than this world is worth.

The world is but a carcass; thou art fed

By it, but as a worm that carcass bred;

And why shouldst thou, poor worm, consider more

When this world will grow better than before,

Than those thy fellow-worms do think upon

That carcass’s last resurrection?

Forget this world, and scarce think of it so,

As of old clothes cast off a year ago.

To be thus stupid is alacrity;

Men thus lethargic have best memory.

Look upward; that’s towards her, whose happy state

We now lament not, but congratulate.

She, to whom all this world was but a stage,

Where all sat hearkening how her youthful age

Should be employ’d, because in all she did

Some figure of the golden times was hid.

Who could not lack, whate’er this world could give,

Because she was the form that made it live;

Nor could complain that this world was unfit

To be stay’d in, then when she was in it;

She, that first tried indifferent desires

By virtue, and virtue by religious fires;

She, to whose person paradise adhered,

As courts to princes; she, whose eyes ensphered

Star-light enough to have made the South control

—Had she been there—the star-full Northern Pole;

She, she is gone; she’s gone; when thou know’st this,

What fragmentary rubbish this world is

Thou know’st, and that it is not worth a thought;

He honours it too much that thinks it nought.

Think then, my soul, that death is but a groom,

Which brings a taper to the outward room,

Whence thou spiest first a little glimmering light,

And after brings it nearer to thy sight;

For such approaches doth heaven make in death.

Think thyself labouring now with broken breath,

And think those broken and soft notes to be

Division, and thy happiest harmony.

Think thee laid on thy death-bed, loose and slack,

And think that but unbinding of a pack,

To take one precious thing, thy soul, from thence.

Think thyself parch’d with fever’s violence;

Anger thine ague more, by calling it

Thy physic; chide the slackness of the fit.

Think that thou hear’st thy knell, and think no more,

But that, as bells call’d thee to church before,

So this to the triumphant church calls thee.

Think Satan’s sergeants round about thee be,

And think that but for legacies they thrust;

Give one thy pride, to another give thy lust;

Give them those sins which they gave thee before,

And trust th’ immaculate blood to wash thy score.

Think thy friends weeping round, and think that they

Weep but because they go not yet thy way.

Think that they close thine eyes, and think in this,

That they confess much in the world amiss,

Who dare not trust a dead man’s eye with that

Which they from God and angels cover not.

Think that they shroud thee up, and think from thence

They reinvest thee in white innocence.

Think that thy body rots, and—if so low,

Thy soul exalted so, thy thoughts can go—

Think thee a prince, who of themselves create

Worms, which insensibly devour their state.

Think that they bury thee, and think that rite

Lays thee to sleep but a Saint Lucy’s night.

Think these things cheerfully, and if thou be

Drowsy, or slack, remember then that she,

She, whose complexion was so even made,

That which of her ingredients should invade

The other three, no fear, no art could guess;

So far were all removed from more or less;

—But as in mithridate, or just perfumes,

Where all good things being met, no one presumes

To govern, or to triumph on the rest,

Only because all were, no part was, best;

And as, though all do know, that quantities

Are made of lines, and lines from points arise,

None can these lines or quantities unjoint

And say, this is a line, or this a point;

So though the elements and humours were

In her, one could not say, this governs there,

Whose even constitution might have won

Any disease to venture on the sun

Rather than her; and make a spirit fear

That he to disuniting subject were;

To whose proportions if we would compare

Cubes, they are unstable, circles, angular—

She who was such a chain as fate employs

To bring mankind all fortunes it enjoys;

So fast, so even wrought, as one would think,

No accident could threaten any link;

She, she embraced a sickness, gave it meat,

The purest blood, and breath, that e’er it eat;

And hath taught us, that though a good man hath

Title to heaven, and plead it by his faith,

And though he may pretend a conquest, since

Heaven was content to suffer violence,

Yea though he plead a long possession too

—For they’re in heaven on earth who heaven’s works do—

Though he had right and power and place, before,

Yet death must usher, and unlock the door.

Think further on thyself, my soul, and think

How thou at first wast made but in a sink.

Think that it argued some infirmity,

That those two souls, which then thou found’st in me,

Thou fed’st upon, and drew’st into thee both

My second soul of sense, and first of growth.

Think but how poor thou wast, how obnoxious;

Whom a small lump of flesh could poison thus.

This curded milk, this poor unlitter’d whelp,

My body, could, beyond escape or help,

Infect thee with original sin, and thou

Couldst neither then refuse, nor leave it now.

Think that no stubborn, sullen anchorite,

Which fix’d to a pillar, or a grave, doth sit

Bedded and bathed in all his ordures, dwells

So foully as our souls in their first-built cells.

Think in how poor a prison thou didst lie,

After, enabled but to suck, and cry.

Think, when ’twas grown to most, ’twas a poor inn,

A province pack’d up in two yards of skin;

And that usurp’d, or threaten’d with a rage

Of sicknesses, or their true mother, age.

But think that death hath now enfranchised thee;

Thou hast thy expansion now, and liberty.

Think that a rusty piece, discharged, is flown

In pieces, and the bullet is his own,

And freely flies; this to thy soul allow.

Think thy shell broke, think thy soul hatch’d but now.

And think this slow-paced soul which late did cleave

To a body, and went but by the body’s leave,

Twenty perchance, or thirty mile a day,

Dispatches in a minute all the way

’Twixt heaven and earth; she stays not in the air,

To look what meteors there themselves prepare;

She carries no desire to know, nor sense,

Whether th’ air’s middle region be intense;

For th’ element of fire, she doth not know,

Whether she pass’d by such a place or no;

She baits not at the moon, nor cares to try

Whether in that new world men live, and die;

Venus retards her not to inquire, how she

Can—being one star—Hesper and Vesper be;

He that charm’d Argus’ eyes, sweet Mercury,

Works not on her, who now is grown all eye;

Who if she meet the body of the sun,

Goes through, not staying till his course be run;

Who finds in Mars his camp no corps of guard,

Nor is by Jove, nor by his father barr’d;

But ere she can consider how she went,

At once is at, and through the firmament;

And as these stars were but so many beads

Strung on one string, speed undistinguish’d leads

Her through those spheres, as through the beads a string,

Whose quick succession makes it still one thing.

As doth the pith, which, lest our bodies slack,

Strings fast the little bones of neck and back,

So by the soul doth death string heaven and earth;

For when our soul enjoys this her third birth

—Creation gave her one, a second, grace—

Heaven is as near and present to her face

As colours are and objects, in a room,

Where darkness was before, when tapers come.

This must, my soul, thy long-short progress be

To advance these thoughts; remember then that she,

She, whose fair body no such prison was,

But that a soul might well be pleased to pass

An age in her; she, whose rich beauty lent

Mintage to other beauties, for they went

But for so much as they were like to her;

She, in whose body—if we dare prefer

This low world to so high a mark as she—

The western treasure, eastern spicery,

Europe, and Afric, and the unknown rest

Were easily found, or what in them was best;

—And when we have made this large discovery

Of all, in her some one part then will be

Twenty such parts, whose plenty and riches is

Enough to make twenty such worlds as this—

She, whom had they known, who did first betroth

The tutelar angels, and assign’d one, both

To nations, cities, and to companies,

To functions, offices, and dignities,

And to each several man, to him, and him,

They would have given her one for every limb;

She, of whose soul, if we may say, ’twas gold,

Her body was th’ electrum, and did hold

Many degrees of that; we understood

Her by her sight; her pure and eloquent blood

Spoke in her cheeks, and so distinctly wrought

That one might almost say, her body thought;

She, she thus richly and largely housed, is gone;

And chides us slow-paced snails who crawl upon

Our prison’s prison, earth, nor think us well,

Longer than whilst we bear our brittle shell.

But ’twere but little to have changed our room,

If, as we were in this our living tomb

Oppress’d with ignorance, we still were so.

Poor soul, in this thy flesh what dost thou know?

Thou know’st thyself so little, as thou know’st not

How thou didst die, nor how thou wast begot.

Thou neither know’st how thou at first camest in,

Nor how thou took’st the poison of man’s sin;

Nor dost thou—though thou know’st that thou art so—

By what way thou art made immortal, know.

Thou art too narrow, wretch, to comprehend

Even thyself, yea though thou wouldst but bend

To know thy body. Have not all souls thought

For many ages, that our bodies wrought

Of air, and fire, and other elements?

And now they think of new ingredients;

And one soul thinks one, and another way

Another thinks, and ’tis an even lay.

Know’st thou but how the stone doth enter in

The bladder’s cave, and never break the skin?

Know’st thou how blood, which to the heart doth flow,

Doth from one ventricle to th’ other go?

And for the putrid stuff which thou dost spit,

Know’st thou how thy lungs have attracted it?

There are no passages, so that there is

—For aught thou know’st—piercing of substances.

And of those many opinions which men raise

Of nails and hairs, dost thou know which to praise?

What hope have we to know ourselves, when we

Know not the least things which for our use be?

We see in authors, too stiff to recant,

A hundred controversies of an ant;

And yet one watches, starves, freezes, and sweats,

To know but catechisms and alphabets

Of unconcerning things, matters of fact,

How others on our stage their parts did act,

What Cæsar did, yea, and what Cicero said.

Why grass is green, or why our blood is red,

Are mysteries which none have reach’d unto.

In this low form, poor soul, what wilt thou do?

When wilt thou shake off this pedantry,

Of being taught by sense and fantasy?

Thou look’st through spectacles; small things seem great

Below; but up unto the watch-tower get,

And see all things despoil’d of fallacies;

Thou shalt not peep through lattices of eyes,

Nor hear through labyrinths of ears, nor learn

By circuit or collections to discern.

In heaven thou straight know’st all concerning it,

And what concerns it not shalt straight forget.

There thou—but in no other school—may’st be,

Perchance, as learned and as full as she;

She, who all libraries had throughly read

At home in her own thoughts, and practisèd

So much good as would make as many more;

She, whose example they must all implore,

Who would, or do, or think well, and confess

That all the virtuous actions they express

Are but a new and worse edition

Of her some one thought or one action;

She, who in th’ art of knowing heaven, was grown

Here upon earth to such perfection,

That she hath, ever since to heaven she came

—In a far fairer print—but read the same;

She, she not satisfied with all this weight—

For so much knowledge as would over-freight

Another, did but ballast her—is gone,

As well to enjoy, as get perfection;

And calls us after her, in that she took

(Taking herself) our best and worthiest book.

Return not, my soul, from this ecstasy

And meditation of what thou shalt be,

To earthly thoughts, till it to thee appear

With whom thy conversation must be there.

With whom wilt thou converse? what station

Canst thou choose out, free from infection,

That will not give thee theirs, nor drink in thine?

Shalt thou not find a spongy slack divine

Drink and suck in th’ instructions of great men,

And for the word of God vent them again?

Are there not some courts—and then, no things be

So like as courts—which in this let us see

That wits and tongues of libellers are weak,

Because they do more ill than these can speak?

The poison’s gone through all; poisons affect

Chiefly the chiefest parts, but some effect

In nails, and hairs, yea excrements, will show;

So lies the poison of sin in the most low.

Up, up, my drowsy soul, where thy new ear

Shall in the angels’ songs no discord hear;

Where thou shalt see the blessed mother-maid

Joy in not being that which men have said;

Where she’s exalted, more for being good

Than for her interest of motherhood;

Up to those patriarchs, which did longer sit

Expecting Christ, than they’ve enjoy’d Him yet;

Up to those prophets, which now gladly see

Their prophecies grown to be history;

Up to th’ apostles, who did bravely run

All the sun’s course, with more light than the sun;

Up to those martyrs, who did calmly bleed

Oil to th’ apostles’ lamps, dew to their seed;

Up to those virgins, who thought that almost

They made joint-tenants with the Holy Ghost

If they to any should His temple give;

Up, up, for in that squadron there doth live

She, who hath carried thither new degrees,

As to their number, to their dignities;

She, who being to herself a state, enjoy’d

All royalties which any state employ’d;

For she made wars, and triumph’d; reason still

Did not o’erthrow, but rectify her will;

And she made peace, for no peace is like this,

That beauty and chastity together kiss.

She did high justice, for she crucified

Every first motion of rebellious pride.

And she gave pardons, and was liberal,

For, only herself except, she pardon’d all.

She coin’d, in this, that her impression gave

To all our actions all the worth they have.

She gave protections; the thoughts of her breast

Satan’s rude officers could ne’er arrest.

As these prerogatives being met in one

Made her a sovereign state, religion

Made her a church; and these two made her all.

She who was all this All, and could not fall

To worse, by company, for she was still

More antidote than all the world was ill,

She, she doth leave it, and by death survive

All this, in heaven; whither who doth not strive

The more, because she’s there, he doth not know

That accidental joys in heaven do grow.

But pause, my soul, and study, ere thou fall

On accidental joys, th’ essential.

Still, before accessories do abide

A trial, must the principal be tried.

And what essential joy canst thou expect

Here upon earth? what permanent effect

Of transitory causes? Dost thou love

Beauty—and beauty worthiest is to move—?

Poor cozened cozener, that she, and that thou,

Which did begin to love, are neither now;

You are both fluid, changed since yesterday;

Next day repairs—but ill—last day’s decay.

Nor are—although the river keep the name—

Yesterday’s waters and to-day’s the same.

So flows her face, and thine eyes; neither now

That saint nor pilgrim, which your loving vow

Concern’d, remains; but whilst you think you be

Constant, you’re hourly in inconstancy.

Honour may have pretence unto our love,

Because that God did live so long above

Without this honour, and then loved it so,

That He at last made creatures to bestow

Honour on Him, not that He needed it,

But that to His hands man might grow more fit.

But since all honours from inferiors flow,

—For they do give it; princes do but show

Whom they would have so honour’d—and that this

On such opinions and capacities

Is built, as rise and fall to more and less;

Alas! ’tis but a casual happiness.

Hath ever any man to himself assigned

This or that happiness to arrest his mind,

But that another man which takes a worse,

Thinks him a fool for having ta’en that course?

They who did labour Babel’s tower to erect,

Might have considered, that for that effect

All this whole solid earth could not allow

Nor furnish forth materials enow;

And that his centre, to raise such a place,

Was far too little to have been the base.

No more affords this world foundation

To erect true joy, were all the means in one;

But as the heathen made them several gods

Of all God’s benefits, and all His rods

—For as the wine, and corn, and onions are

Gods unto them, so agues be, and war—

And as by changing that whole precious gold

To such small copper coins, they lost the old,

And lost their only God, who ever must

Be sought alone, and not in such a thrust;

So much mankind true happiness mistakes;

No joy enjoys that man, that many makes.

Then, soul, to thy first pitch work up again;

Know that all lines which circles do contain,

For once that they the centre touch, do touch

Twice the circumference; and be thou such,

Double on heaven thy thoughts on earth employ’d.

—All will not serve; only who have enjoy’d

The sight of God in fullness can think it;

For it is both the object and the wit.

This is essential joy, where neither He

Can suffer diminution, nor we;

’Tis such a full, and such a filling good,

Had th’ angels once look’d on Him, they had stood.

To fill the place of one of them, or more,

She whom we celebrate is gone before;

She, who had here so much essential joy,

As no chance could distract, much less destroy;

Who with God’s presence was acquainted so

—Hearing and speaking to Him—as to know

His face in any natural stone or tree,

Better than when in images they be;

Who kept, by diligent devotion,

God’s image in such reparation

Within her heart, that what decay was grown

Was her first parents’ fault, and not her own;

Who, being solicited to any act,

Still heard God pleading His safe precontract;

Who by a faithful confidence, was here

Betroth’d to God, and now is married there;

Whose twilights were more clear than our mid-day;

Who dreamt devoutlier than most use to pray;

Who, being here fill’d with grace, yet strove to be

Both where more grace and more capacity

At once is given; she to heaven is gone,

Who made this world in some proportion

A heaven, and here became unto us all

Joy—as our joys admit—essential.

But could this low world joys essential touch,

Heaven’s accidental joys would pass them much.

How poor and lame must then our casual be?

If thy prince will his subjects to call thee

My lord, and this do swell thee, thou art then,

By being greater, grown to be less man.

When no physician of redress can speak,

A joyful casual violence may break

A dangerous aposthume in thy breast;

And whilst thou joyest in this, the dangerous rest,

The bag, may rise up, and so strangle thee.

Whate’er was casual, may ever be.

What should the nature change? or make the same

Certain, which was but casual, when it came?

All casual joy doth loud and plainly say,

Only by coming, that it can away.

Only in heaven joy’s strength is never spent,

And accidental things are permanent.

Joy of a soul’s arrival ne’er decays,

For that soul ever joys and ever stays.

Joy that their last great consummation

Approaches in the resurrection,

When earthly bodies more celestial

Shall be, than angels’ were, for they could fall;

This kind of joy doth every day admit

Degrees of growth, but none of losing it.

In this fresh joy, ’tis no small part that she,

She, in whose goodness he that names degree

Doth injure her—’tis loss to be called best

There, where the stuff is not such as the rest—

She, who left such a body, as even she

Only in heaven could learn how it can be

Made better; for she rather was two souls,

Or like to full on both sides written rolls,

Where eyes might read upon the outward skin,

As strong records for God as minds within;

She, who by making full perfection grow,

Pieces a circle, and still keeps it so;

Long’d for, and longing for ’t, to heaven is gone,

Where she receives, and gives addition.

Here, in a place where mis-devotion frames

A thousand prayers to saints, whose very names

The ancient Church knew not, Heaven knows not yet;

And where what laws of poetry admit,

Laws of religion have at least the same;

Immortal maid, I might invoke thy name.

Could any saint provoke that appetite,

Thou here should’st make me a French convertite.

But thou would’st not; nor would’st thou be content,

To take this, for my second year’s true rent,

Did this coin bear any other stamp than His,

That gave thee power to do, me to say this.

Since His will is, that to posterity

Thou should’st for life and death a pattern be,

And that the world should notice have of this,

The purpose and th’ authority is His.

Thou art the proclamation; and I am

The trumpet, at whose voice the people came.

Infinitaty Sacrum, Epistle, The Progress of the Soul
The Harbinger to the Progress, the Second Anniversary


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