John Donne Poem

To the Countess of Bedford (‘To have written then’)

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To have written then, when you writ, seemed to me
Worst of spiritual vices, simony,
And not to have written then, seems little less
Than worst of civil vices, thanklessness.
In this, my debt I seemed loth to confess,
In that, I seemed to shun beholdingness.
But ’tis not so, nothings, as I am, may
Pay all they have, and yet have all to pay.
Such borrow in their payments, and owe more
By having leave to write so, than before.
Yet since rich mines in barren grounds are shown,
May not I yield (not gold) but coal or stone?
Temples were not demolished, though profane:
Here Peter Jove’s, there Paul hath Dian’s fane.
So whether my hymns you admit or choose,
In me you have hallowed a pagan Muse,
And denizened a stranger, who mistaught
By blamers of the times they marred, hath sought
Virtues in corners, which now bravely do
Shine in the world’s best part, or all it; you.
I have been told, that virtue in courtiers’ hearts
Suffers an ostracism, and departs.
Profit, ease, fitness, plenty, bid it go,
But whither, only knowing you, I know;
Your (or you) virtue, two vast uses serves,
It ransoms one sex, and one Court preserves;
There’s nothing but your worth, which being true,
Is known to any other, not to you:
And you can never know it; to admit
No knowledge of your worth, is some of it.
But since to you, your praises discords be,
Stoop others’ ills to meditate with me.
Oh! to confess we know not what we should,
Is half excuse; we know not what we would.
Lightness depresseth us, emptiness fills,
We sweat and faint, yet still go down the hills;
As new philosophy arrests the sun,
And bids the passive earth about it run,
So we have dulled our mind, it hath no ends;
Only the body’s busy, and pretends;
As dead low earth eclipses and controls
The quick high moon: so doth the body, souls.
In none but us, are such mixed engines found,
As hands of double office: for, the ground
We till with them; and them to heaven we raise;
Who prayerless labours, or, without this, prays,
Doth but one half, that’s none; he which said, Plough
And look not back , to look up doth allow.
Good seed degenerates, and oft obeys
The soil’s disease, and into cockle strays.
Let the mind’s thoughts be but transplanted so,
Into the body, and bastardly they grow.
What hate could hurt our bodies like our love?
We, but no foreign tyrants could, remove
These not engraved, but inborn dignities
Caskets of souls; temples, and palaces:
For, bodies shall from death redeemed be,
Souls but preserved, not naturally free.
As men to our prisons, new souls to us are sent,
Which learn vice there, and come in innocent.
First seeds of every creature are in us,
Whate’er the world hath bad, or precious,
Man’s body can produce, hence hath it been
That stones, worms, frogs, and snakes in man are seen:
But who e’er saw, though nature can work so,
That pearl, or gold, or corn in man did grow?
We’ have added to the world Virginia, and sent
Two new stars lately to the firmament;
Why grudge we us (not heaven) the dignity
T’ increase with ours, those fair souls’ company?
But I must end this letter, though it do
Stand on two truths, neither is true to you.
Virtue hath some perverseness; for she will
Neither believe her good, nor others’ ill.
Even in you, virtue’s best paradise,
Virtue hath some, but wise degrees of vice.
Too many virtues, or too much of one
Begets in you unjust suspicion.
And ignorance of vice, makes virtue less,
Quenching compassion of our wretchedness.
But these are riddles; some aspersion
Of vice becomes well some complexion.
Statesmen purge vice with vice, and may corrode
The bad with bad, a spider with a toad:
For so, ill thralls not them, but they tame ill
And make her do much good against her will,
But in your commonwealth, or world in you,
Vice hath no office, or good work to do.
Take then no vicious purge, but be content
With cordial virtue, your known nourishment.

To the Countess of Bedford ('Reason is our soul's')


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