I was surprised to come across this poem by John Donne in my anthology as it’s another variation on the Passionate Shepherd to His Love poems I’ve featured recently by Marlowe & Raleigh. It’s called The Bait & Donne has really just taken the first two lines & the verse form of the Passionate Shepherd & beautifully explored the image of his lover as a water nymph, attracting every fish & young man) to her with her beauty & her sun-like brilliance. Of course, a nymph can be treacherous as well as inviting & although the lover is enthralled by her, he doesn’t seem sure that it’s a good place to be.
Come live with me, and be my Love,
And we will some new pleasures prove,
Of golden sands and crystal brooks,
With silken lines and silver hooks.
There will the river whispering run
Warmed by thy eyes more than the sun.
And there the enamoured fish will stay,
Begging themselves they may betray.
When thou wilt swim in that live bath,
Each fish which every channel hath
Will amorously to thee swim,
Gladder to catch thee, than thou him.
If thou to be so seen beest loath
By sun or moon, thou darkenest both,
And if myself have leave to see,
I need not their light, having thee.
Let others freeze with angling reeds,
And cut their legs with shells and weeds,
Or treacherously poor fish beset
With strangling snare or windowy net.
Let coarse bold hands from slimy nest
The bedded fish in banks out-wrest,
Or curious traitors, sleave-silk flies,
Bewitch poor fishes’ wandering eyes.
For thee, thou needst no such deceit,
For thou thyself art thine own bait;
The fish that is not catched thereby,
Alas, is wiser far than I.