John Donne Poem

Elegy on Mistress Boulstred (‘Death I recant, and say’)

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Death I recant, and say, unsaid by me
Whate’er hath slipped, that might diminish thee.
Spiritual treason, atheism ’tis, to say,
That any can thy summons disobey.
Th’ earth’s race is but thy table; there are set
Plants, cattle, men, dishes for Death to eat.
In a rude hunger now he millions draws
Into his bloody, or plaguey, or starved jaws.
Now he will seem to spare, and doth more waste,
Eating the best first, well preserved to last.
Now wantonly he spoils, and eats us not,
But breaks off friends, and lets us piecemeal rot.
Nor will this earth serve him; he sinks the deep
Where harmless fish monastic silence keep,
Who (were Death dead) by roes of living sand,
Might sponge that element, and make it land.
He rounds the air, and breaks the hymnic notes
In birds’, heaven’s choristers, organic throats,
Which (if they did not die) might seem to be
A tenth rank in the heavenly hierarchy.
O strong and long-lived death, how cam’st thou in?
And how without creation didst begin?
Thou hast, and shalt see dead, before thou diest,
All the four monarchies, and antichrist.
How could I think thee nothing, that see now
In all this all, nothing else is, but thou.
Our births and lives, vices, and virtues, be
Wasteful consumptions, and degrees of thee.
For, we to live, our bellows wear, and breath,
Nor are we mortal, dying, dead, but death.
And though thou be’st, O mighty bird of prey,
So much reclaimed by God, that thou must lay
All that thou kill’st at his feet, yet doth he
Reserve but few, and leaves the most to thee.
And of those few, now thou hast overthrown
One whom thy blow makes, not ours, nor thine own.
She was more storeys high: hopeless to come
To her soul, thou hast offered at her lower room.
Her soul and body was a king and court:
But thou hast both of captain missed and fort.
As houses fall not, though the king remove,
Bodies of saints rest for their souls above.
Death gets ‘twixt souls and bodies such a place
As sin insinuates ‘twixt just men and grace,
Both work a separation, no divorce.
Her soul is gone to usher up her corse,
Which shall be almost another soul, for there
Bodies are purer, than best souls are here.
Because in her, her virtues did outgo
Her years, wouldst thou, O emulous death, do so?
And kill her young to thy loss? must the cost
Of beauty, and wit, apt to do harm, be lost?
What though thou found’st her proof ‘gainst sins of youth?
Oh, every age a diverse sin pursueth.
Thou shouldst have stayed, and taken better hold,
Shortly ambitious, covetous, when old,
She might have proved: and such devotion
Might once have strayed to superstition.
If all her virtues must have grown, yet might
Abundant virtue have bred a proud delight.
Had she persevered just, there would have been
Some that would sin, mis-thinking she did sin.
Such as would call her friendship, love, and feign
To sociableness, a name profane;
Or sin, by tempting, or, not daring that,
By wishing, though they never told her what.
Thus mightst thou have slain more souls, hadst thou not crossed
Thyself, and to triumph, thine army lost.
Yet though these ways be lost, thou hast left one,
Which is, immoderate grief that she is gone.
But we may ‘scape that sin, yet weep as much,
Our tears are due, because we are not such.
Some tears, that knot of friends, her death must cost,
Because the chain is broke, though no link lost.

Elegy on Mistress Boulstred (‘Death, be not proud’)
Elegy on the Lady Markham


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