Sunday Poetry – John Donne

Another post on the Interesting Literature website, this time about my favourite poet, John Donne. Claiming Donne as my favourite poet is a bold call as I love many poets but I can remember loving his poetry at high school &, if a poet can survive Year 12 English classes, he’s a keeper.
It was difficult to choose one of the ten featured at Interesting Literature as I love them all but I’ve chosen The Canonization, which combines Donne’s religious poetry & his love lyrics in one. Just to make life complete, here is Richard Burton reading the poem.

Richard Burton has been on my mind this week. I’ve been listening to Adam Sisman’s excellent biography of John le Carré (read by Michael Jayston) & I was interested to hear about the experience of turning le Carré’s novel, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, into a movie. The movie starred Richard Burton. Burton wanted Elizabeth Taylor to be cast as his love interest but the role went to a much more suitable Claire Bloom. Bloom had worked with Burton before & they had been lovers so Taylor was jealous (Bloom’s character’s name even had to be changed from Liz to Nan), Burton didn’t get on with the director, Martin Ritt, & the experience of filming was fraught. Maybe they should have spent more time reading poetry?

For God’s sake hold your tongue, and let me love,
         Or chide my palsy, or my gout,
My five gray hairs, or ruined fortune flout,
         With wealth your state, your mind with arts improve,
                Take you a course, get you a place,
                Observe his honor, or his grace,
Or the king’s real, or his stampèd 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 drowned?
Who says my tears have overflowed 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 us 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 the eagle and the dove.
                The phœnix 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 tombs and 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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