John Donne Poem

A Letter to the Lady Carey, and Mistress Essex Rich, from Amiens

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Here, where by all, all saints invoked are
T’were too much schism to be singular,
And ‘gainst a practice general to war;

Yet, turning to saints, should my humility
To other saint, than you, directed be,
That were to make my schism heresy.

Nor would I be a convertite so cold
As not to tell it; if this be too bold,
Pardons are in this market cheaply sold.

Where, because faith is in too low degree,
I thought it some apostleship in me,
To speak things which by faith alone I see:

That is, of you; who are a firmament
Of virtues, where no one is grown, nor spent;
They’are your materials, not your ornament.

Others, whom we call virtuous, are not so
In their whole substance, but their virtues grow
But in their humours, and at seasons show.

For when through tasteless flat humility,
In dough-baked men, some harmlessness we see,
‘Tis but his phlegm that’s virtuous, and not he.

So is the blood sometimes; who ever ran
To danger unimportuned, he was then
No better than a sanguine virtuous man.

So cloistral men who in pretence of fear,
All contributions to this life forbear,
Have virtue in melancholy, and only there.

Spiritual choleric critics, which in all
Religions, find faults, and forgive no fall,
Have, through this zeal, virtue, but in their gall.

We’are thus but parcel-gilt; to gold we’are grown,
When virtue is our soul’s complexion;
Who knows his virtue’s name, or place, hath none.

Virtue is but aguish, when ’tis several;
By’occasion waked, and circumstantial;
True virtue is soul, always in all deeds all.

This virtue, thinking to give dignity
To your soul, found there no infirmity;
For your soul was as good virtue as she.

She therefore wrought upon that part of you,
Which is scarce less than soul, as she could do,
And so hath made your beauty virtue too;

Hence comes it, that your beauty wounds not hearts
As others, with profane and sensual darts,
But, as an influence, virtuous thoughts imparts.

But if such friends, by the’honour of your sight
Grow capable of this so great a light,
As to partake your virtues, and their might,

What must I think that influence must do,
Where it finds sympathy, and matter too,
Virtue, and beauty, of the same stuff, as you:

Which is, your noble worthy sister; she,
Of whom, if what in this my ecstasy
And revelation of you both, I see,

I should write here, as in short galleries
The master at the end large glasses ties,
So to present the room twice to our eyes,

So I should give this letter length, and say
That which I said of you, there is no way
From either, but by th’ other, not to stray.

May therefore this be’enough to testify
My true devotion, free from flattery.
He that believes himself, doth never lie.

To the Honourable lady
the lady Carew.

To the Countess of Salisbury
To the Countess of Bedford ('Though I be dead, and buried')


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