John Donne Poem

Elegy on the Lady Markham

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Man is the world, and death the ocean,
To which God gives the lower parts of man.
This sea environs all, and though as yet
God hath set marks, and bounds, ‘twixt us and it,
Yet doth it roar, and gnaw, and still pretend,
And breaks our banks, when e’er it takes a friend.
Then our land waters (tears of passion) vent;
Our waters, then, above our firmament,
—Tears which our soul doth for her sins let fall—
Take all a brackish taste, and funeral.
And even these tears, which should wash sin, are sin.
We, after God’s ‘No’, drown our world again.
Nothing but man of all envenomed things
Doth work upon itself, with inborn stings.
Tears are false spectacles, we cannot see
Through passion’s mist, what we are, or what she.
In her this sea of death hath made no breach,
But as the tide doth wash the slimy beach,
And leaves embroidered works upon the sand,
So is her flesh refined by death’s cold hand.
As men of China, after an age’s stay
Do take up porcelain, where they buried clay;
So at this grave, her limbeck, which refines
The diamonds, rubies, sapphires, pearls, and mines,
Of which this flesh was, her soul shall inspire
Flesh of such stuff, as God, when his last fire
Annuls this world, to recompense it, shall,
Make and name then, th’ elixir of this all.
They say, the sea, when it gains, loseth too;
If carnal death (the younger brother) do
Usurp the body, our soul, which subject is
To th’ elder death, by sin, is freed by this;
They perish both, when they attempt the just;
For, graves our trophies are, and both deaths’ dust.
So, unobnoxious now, she hath buried both;
For, none to death sins, that to sin is loth.
Nor do they die, which are not loth to die,
So hath she this, and that virginity.
Grace was in her extremely diligent,
That kept her from sin, yet made her repent.
Of what small spots pure white complains! Alas,
How little poison cracks a crystal glass!
She sinned, but just enough to let us see
That God’s word must be true, all, sinners be.
So much did zeal her conscience rarefy,
That, extreme truth lacked little of a lie,
Making omissions, acts; laying the touch
Of sin, on things that sometimes may be such.
As Moses’ cherubins, whose natures do
Surpass all speed, by him are winged too:
So would her soul, already in heaven, seem then,
To climb by tears, the common stairs of men.
How fit she was for God, I am content
To speak, that death his vain haste may repent.
How fit for us, how even and how sweet,
How good in all her titles, and how meet,
To have reformed this forward heresy,
That women can no parts of friendship be;
How moral, how divine shall not be told,
Lest they that hear her virtues, think her old:
And lest we take death’s part, and make him glad
Of such a prey, and to his triumph add.

Elegy on Mistress Boulstred ('Death I recant, and say')
Obsequies of the Lord Harrington, Brother to the Countess of Bedford


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