John Donne Poem

Of the Progress of the Soul

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The Religious death of Mistris
E L I Z A B E T H  D R V R Y,
the incommodities of the Soule
in this life, and her exaltation in
the next, are Contemplated.
The Second Anniversarie.

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 sailed, to her eternal bed,
His eyes will twinkle, and his tongue will roll,
As though he beckoned, and called 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 drowned 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 would’st 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 putrefy 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;
‘Tis 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 concerned: 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 carcase; thou art fed
By it, but as a worm, that carcase 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 carcase’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 employed, 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 stayed 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 is 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 naught.
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 parched 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 called 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 thy self, my soul, and think
How thou at first was 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 unlittered 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 fixed 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 packed up in two yards of skin,
And that usurped or threatened with the 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 hatched 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 passed 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 charmed 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 barred;
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 undistinguished 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 others’ 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 assigned 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
Oppressed 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 cam’st 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 body is 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 our selves, 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 Caesar did, yea, and what Cicero said.
Why grass is green, or why our blood is red,
Are mysteries which none have reached unto.
In this low form, poor soul, what wilt thou do?
When wilt thou shake off this pedantery,
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 despoiled 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) mayst be
Perchance, as learned, and as full, as she,
She who all libraries had throughly read
At home, in her own thoughts, and practised
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 aye 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 t’ 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 nor 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’is gone through all, poisons affect
Chiefly the chiefest parts, but some effect
In nails, and hairs, yea excrements, will show;
So will 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 is exalted more for being good,
Than for her interest of motherhood.
Up to those patriarchs, which did longer sit
Expecting Christ, than they’have enjoyed 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, enjoyed
All royalties which any State employed;
For she made wars, and triumphed; 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 pardoned all:
She coined, in this, that her impressions 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 today’s the same.
So flows her face, and thine eyes, neither now
That saint, nor pilgrim, which your loving vow
Concerned, remains; but whilst you think you be
Constant, you’are 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 honoured) 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 this 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 employed;
All will not serve; only who have enjoyed
The sight of God, in fulness, 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 looked 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
Betrothed to God, and now is married there;
Whose twilights were more clear, than our midday;
Who dreamed devoutlier, than most use to pray;
Who being here filled 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 a greater, grown to be less man.
When no physician of redress can speak,
A joyful casual violence may break
A dangerous aposteme in thy breast;
And whilst thou joyest in this, the dangerous rest,
The bag may rise up, and so strangle thee.
What aye 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,
Longed for, and longing for it, 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 shouldst make me a French convertite.
But thou wouldst not; nor wouldst 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 shouldst 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.

The Prohibition
The Primrose


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