Sunday Poetry – John Donne

Another beautiful if slightly bad-tempered love poem this week. Addressed not to the loved one but to those – her friends? her parents? – who don’t approve of the relationship. I love the directness of the opening lines, the slightly whiny exasperation of “Alas, alas, who’s injured by my love?” & then the lovely, quiet image, “We’ll build in sonnets pretty rooms.” The lovers know that their love will last until death.

For God’s sake hold your tongue, and let me love;
    Or chide my palsy, or my gout;
    My five gray hairs, or ruin’d fortune flout;
With wealth your state, your mind with arts improve;
        Take you a course, get you a place,
        Observe his Honour, or his Grace;
Or the king’s real, or his stamp’d face
    Contemplate ; what you will, approve,
    So you will let me love.

Alas ! alas ! who’s injured by my love?
    What merchant’s ships have my sighs drown’d?
    Who says my tears have overflow’d his ground?
When did my colds a forward spring remove?
        When did the heats which my veins fill
        Add one more to the plaguy bill?
Soldiers find wars, and lawyers find out still
    Litigious men, which quarrels move,
    Though she and I do love.

Call’s what you will, we are made such by love;
    Call her one, me another fly,
    We’re tapers too, and at our own cost die,
And we in us find th’ eagle and the dove.
        The phoenix riddle hath more wit
        By us ; we two being one, are it;
So, to one neutral thing both sexes fit.
    We die and rise the same, and prove
    Mysterious by this love.

We can die by it, if not live by love,
    And if unfit for tomb or hearse
    Our legend be, it will be fit for verse;
And if no piece of chronicle we prove,
        We’ll build in sonnets pretty rooms;
        As well a well-wrought urn becomes
The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs,
    And by these hymns, all shall approve
    Us canonized for love;

And thus invoke us, “You, whom reverend love
    Made one another’s hermitage;
    You, to whom love was peace, that now is rage;
Who did the whole world’s soul contract, and drove
        Into the glasses of your eyes;
        So made such mirrors, and such spies,
That they did all to you epitomize—
    Countries, towns, courts beg from above
    A pattern of your love
.”

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