John Donne Poem

To the Countess of Bedford (‘Honour is so sublime perfection’)

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Honour is so sublime perfection,
And so refined; that when God was alone
And creatureless at first, himself had none;

But as of the elements, these which we tread,
Produce all things with which we’are joyed or fed,
And, those are barren both above our head:

So from low persons doth all honour flow;
Kings, whom they would have honoured, to us show,
And but direct our honour, not bestow.

For when from herbs the pure parts must be won
From gross, by stilling, this is better done
By despised dung, than by the fire or sun.

Care not then, Madam, how low your praisers lie;
In labourers’ ballad, oft more piety
God finds, than in Te Deum ‘s melody.

And, ordnance raised on towers so many mile
Send not their voice, nor last so long a while
As fires from th’ earth’s low vaults in Sicil Isle.

Should I say I lived darker than were true,
Your radiation can all clouds subdue;
But one, ’tis best light to contemplate you.

You, for whose body God made better clay,
Or took soul’s stuff such as shall late decay,
Or such as needs small change at the last day.

This, as an amber drop enwraps a bee,
Covering discovers your quick soul; that we
May in your through-shine front your heart’s thoughts see.

You teach (though we learn not) a thing unknown
To our late times, the use of specular stone,
Through which all things within without were shown.

Of such were temples; so and of such you are;
Being and seeming is your equal care,
And virtue’s whole sum is but know and dare.

But as our souls of growth and souls of sense
Have birthright of our reason’s soul, yet hence
They fly not from that, nor seek precedence:

Nature’s first lesson, so, discretion,
Must not grudge zeal a place, nor yet keep none,
Not banish itself, nor religion.

Discretion is a wiseman’s soul, and so
Religion is a Christian’s, and you know
How these are one, her yea , is not her no .

Nor may we hope to solder still and knit
These two, and dare to break them; nor must wit
Be colleague to religion, but be it.

In those poor types of God (round circles) so
Religions’ types, the pieceless centres flow,
And are in all the lines which all ways go.

If either ever wrought in you alone
Or principally, then religion
Wrought your ends, and your ways discretion.

Go thither still, go the same way you went,
Who so would change, do covet or repent;
Neither can reach you, great and innocent.

To the Countesse of Huntington ('That unripe side of earth')
To Mrs. Magdalen Herbert


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