Poem-A-Day: John Donne (Oh look, another one by that guy.)

I just saw Infinity War and frankly cannot even. Srsly. Marvel’s got some ‘splainin’ to do.

So I’m going to cheer myself up by switching moods completely with another poem by John Donne. For an interesting analysis of this poem, click here.

***

To His Mistress Going to Bed

Come, Madam, come, all rest my powers defy,
Until I labour, I in labour lie.
The foe oft-times having the foe in sight,
Is tir’d with standing though he never fight.
Off with that girdle, like heaven’s Zone glistering,
But a far fairer world encompassing.
Unpin that spangled breastplate which you wear,
That th’eyes of busy fools may be stopped there.
Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime,
Tells me from you, that now it is bed time.
Off with that happy busk, which I envy,
That still can be, and still can stand so nigh.
Your gown going off, such beauteous state reveals,
As when from flowery meads th’hill’s shadow steals.
Off with that wiry Coronet and shew
The hairy Diadem which on you doth grow:
Now off with those shoes, and then safely tread
In this love’s hallow’d temple, this soft bed.
In such white robes, heaven’s Angels used to be
Received by men; Thou Angel bringst with thee
A heaven like Mahomet’s Paradise; and though
Ill spirits walk in white, we easily know,
By this these Angels from an evil sprite,
Those set our hairs, but these our flesh upright.
Licence my roving hands, and let them go,
Before, behind, between, above, below.
O my America! my new-found-land,
My kingdom, safeliest when with one man mann’d,
My Mine of precious stones, My Empirie,
How blest am I in this discovering thee!
To enter in these bonds, is to be free;
Then where my hand is set, my seal shall be.
Full nakedness! All joys are due to thee,
As souls unbodied, bodies uncloth’d must be,
To taste whole joys. Gems which you women use
Are like Atlanta’s balls, cast in men’s views,
That when a fool’s eye lighteth on a Gem,
His earthly soul may covet theirs, not them.
Like pictures, or like books’ gay coverings made
For lay-men, are all women thus array’d;
Themselves are mystic books, which only we
(Whom their imputed grace will dignify)
Must see reveal’d. Then since that I may know;
As liberally, as to a Midwife, shew
Thy self: cast all, yea, this white linen hence,
There is no penance due to innocence.
To teach thee, I am naked first; why then
What needst thou have more covering than a man.

***

John Donne (22 January 1572 – 31 March 1631) was an English poet and cleric in the Church of England. He is considered the pre-eminent representative of the metaphysical poets. His works are noted for their strong, sensual style and include sonnets, love poems, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs, satires and sermons. His poetry is noted for its vibrancy of language and inventiveness of metaphor, especially compared to that of his contemporaries.

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Poem-A-Day: John Donne

First, let me apologize for not posting a Poem-A-Day yesterday or last night. I fully intended to, but we had a birthday party for our aforementioned newly minted teenager last night, and it ran a bit longer than expected, and I was already wrecked from this week at work, so I just sort of forgot and went to bed before I could post. Oops.

So today, I will post TWO Poems-A-Day! Yes, you read that correctly —  a bonus poem is your reward for suffering through my error. I’ll post one this morning and another one later today so they don’t crowd up on each other.

If you have followed my blog for any length of time — or if you just follow along every April — you know that I’m a big fan of the poetry of John Donne. He writes about love in an extremely frank way: not with the formality one might expect of the Seventeenth Century, nor with the reservedness one might expect of someone who later became a priest. His thoughts on the matter are raw and passionate and earnest and — occasionally — mischievous. I also like that Donne’s language requires the reader to wrestle with it just a bit. It’s not like Gerard Manly Hopkins or anything, but you do have to be thinking while you read Donne’s work if you want to get anything out of it.

His love poetry is not the only work of his I like, of course; “Holy Sonnet X” is maybe one of my favorite poems in the entire historical pageant of literature. Today I’m sharing with you one of his love poems, though. It’s a poem that embraces the ferocity of desire within the limits of propriety. If you’d like to read an incisive critical analysis of it, click here.

***

The Ecstasy

Where, like a pillow on a bed
A pregnant bank swell’d up to rest
The violet’s reclining head,
Sat we two, one another’s best;

Our hands were firmly cemented
With a fast balm, which thence did spring;
Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
Our eyes upon one double string;

So to’ intergraft our hands, as yet
Was all the means to make us one,
And pictures in our eyes to get
Was all our propagation.

As ’twixt two equal armies fate
Suspends uncertain victory,
Our souls (which to advance their state
Were gone out) hung ’twixt her and me.

And whilst our souls negotiate there,
We like sepulchral statues lay;
All day, the same our postures were,
And we said nothing, all the day.

If any, so by love refin’d
That he soul’s language understood,
And by good love were grown all mind,
Within convenient distance stood,

He (though he knew not which soul spake,
Because both meant, both spake the same)
Might thence a new concoction take
And part far purer than he came.

This ecstasy doth unperplex,
We said, and tell us what we love;
We see by this it was not sex,
We see we saw not what did move;

But as all several souls contain
Mixture of things, they know not what,
Love these mix’d souls doth mix again
And makes both one, each this and that.

A single violet transplant,
The strength, the colour, and the size,
(All which before was poor and scant)
Redoubles still, and multiplies.

When love with one another so
Interinanimates two souls,
That abler soul, which thence doth flow,
Defects of loneliness controls.

We then, who are this new soul, know
Of what we are compos’d and made,
For th’ atomies of which we grow
Are souls, whom no change can invade.

But O alas, so long, so far,
Our bodies why do we forbear?
They are ours, though they are not we; we are
The intelligences, they the spheres.

We owe them thanks, because they thus
Did us, to us, at first convey,
Yielded their senses’ force to us,
Nor are dross to us, but allay.

On man heaven’s influence works not so,
But that it first imprints the air;
So soul into the soul may flow,
Though it to body first repair.

As our blood labours to beget
Spirits, as like souls as it can,
Because such fingers need to knit
That subtle knot which makes us man,

So must pure lovers’ souls descend
T’ affections, and to faculties,
Which sense may reach and apprehend,
Else a great prince in prison lies.

To our bodies turn we then, that so
Weak men on love reveal’d may look;
Love’s mysteries in souls do grow,
But yet the body is his book.

And if some lover, such as we,
Have heard this dialogue of one,
Let him still mark us, he shall see
Small change, when we’are to bodies gone.

***

Since Donne couldn’t provide me with an author bio himself, I snagged this from Wikipedia:

John Donne (22 January 1572 – 31 March 1631) was an English poet and cleric in the Church of England. He is considered the pre-eminent representative of the metaphysical poets. His works are noted for their strong, sensual style and include sonnets, love poems, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs, satires and sermons. His poetry is noted for its vibrancy of language and inventiveness of metaphor, especially compared to that of his contemporaries.

Witchy Weekends: John Donne

I may have shared this poem with you before? John Donne is one of my favorites of the old poetry masters.

“Witch” is an epithet hurled at many a disobedient or otherwise displeasing woman, and “witchcraft” levied at her actions.

I could go on and on about this for days, but I’ll save it. Instead just have this poem, Donne’s “Witchcraft By A Picture.”

***

Witchcraft By A Picture
by John Donne

I fix mine eye on thine, and there
Pity my picture burning in thine eye;
My picture drown’d in a transparent tear,
When I look lower I espy;
Hadst thou the wicked skill
By pictures made and marr’d, to kill,
How many ways mightst thou perform they will?

But now I’ve drunk thy sweet salt tears,
And though thou pour more, I’ll depart;
My picture vanished, vanish all fears
That I can be endamaged by that art;
Though thou retain of me
One picture more, yet that will be,
Being in thine own heart, from all malice free.

Poem-A-Day: John Donne (again)

John Donne wrote his fair share of love poetry, some of it racy. If you saw yesterday’s poem by him, you know that even his spirituality could be infused with passion of more than one sort. It’s no great stretch to imagine that anyone who feels things so deeply might also feel deep pain, deep anger, even deep resentment.

In the poem “Witchcraft By A Picture,” Donne expresses the leavings of trauma from a failed affair, but I invite your commentary on what’s happening in this poem. What witchcraft? Why witchcraft? How does he leave things?

***

Witchcraft By A Picture

 

I fix mine eye on thine, and there
Pity my picture burning in thine eye;
My picture drown’d in a transparent tear,
When I look lower I espy;
Hadst thou the wicked skill
By pictures made and marr’d, to kill,
How many ways mightst thou perform thy will?

But now I’ve drunk thy sweet salt tears,
And though thou pour more I’ll depart;
My picture vanished, vanish all fears
That I can be endamaged by that art;
Though thou retain of me
One picture more, yet that will be,
Being in thine own heart, from all malice free.

 

Poem-A-Day: John Donne

So for some of us, this is a holy weekend. Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday — and some of us were paying attention to Maundy Thursday too. For some of us, there will be a lot of candy involved. Resuming the indulgence in our recent sacrifices. Eggs. Springy animals. Wearing white again. Meeting up with friends, coping with family. Commenting on the beautiful weather. Prayer. Reflection. Chocolate, chocolate everywhere, and not an ounce uneaten.

When I think about holy poems, I turn to John Donne, one of my favorite poets of the English Renaissance. His trajectory through life led him to become a priest in the Church of England, but he was a poet first, and one whose attention to matters carnal was just as pronounced as his attention to matters spiritual later.

Good Friday is about passion. When I was growing up in the Catholic Church, that word carried with it challenging baggage: it was both a thing to love and a thing to despise, a thing to aspire toward and a thing to fear. No matter how you sliced the connotation, it was a basket full of conflicting images, conflicting impulses, conflicting directives.

In my Catholic school, at Good Friday service, a boy from the eighth grade was selected each year to the dubious honor of playing Christ in the Stations of the Cross. He was led through the Stations before the entire student body, the faculty, the administration; he carried a wooden cross larger than he was; he was guided by two of his male peers, dressed as acolytes; by the end of the service they had stripped his white robes to his waist, so that he would stand before the community, pale and freckled chest bared, arms draped over the cross leaning against his back, his eyes always — always — lowered in what felt to me more like shame than prayer. We were silent, watching, more still in our observation than children ever otherwise were.

The spiritual passion of John Donne’s poetry at times rivaled the carnal passion of his love poetry from before he accepted the cloth. The following sonnet exemplifies this same contradiction I learned through a life both spiritual and linguistic: that passion can be hideously exalting, gloriously demeaning, both a craving and a deeply felt pain.

***

Batter my heart, three-person’d God

 

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labour to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

***

For some astute analysis of this poem, check out the Interesting Literature blog.