Herbert J.C. Grierson, ed. (1886–1960). Metaphysical Lyrics & Poems of the 17th C. 1921.



The good-morrow. l. 4. ‘The seaven sleepers den’. The seven young men of Ephesus who during the persecution of Diocletian took refuge in a cavern, and having fallen asleep were there entombed (A. D. 250), but were found alive in 479, in the reign of Theodosius. See Baring-Gould’s Lives of the Saints.  l. 20. ‘If our two loves be one’, &c. If our two loves are one, dissolution is impossible; and the same is true if though two they are always alike. What is simple, as God or the soul, cannot be dissolved; nor compounds, e. g. the heavenly bodies, between whose elements there is no contrariety. ‘Non enim invenitur corruptio, nisi ubi invenitur contrarietas; generationes enim et corruptiones ex contrariis et in contraria sunt’ (Aquinas). ‘Too good for mere wit. It contains a deep practical truth, this triplet’ (Coleridge). Sweetest love, I do not goe. ll. 6–8. What is probably another arrangement of these lines by the author is found in later editions:
At the last must part ’tis best, Thus to use myself in jest By fained deaths to die.
Aire and Angels. l. 19. ‘Ev’ry thy haire’, i. e. ‘thy every hair’ and ‘even thy least hair’. In common use with the superlative;
I say such love is never blind; but rather Alive to every the minutest spot. Browning, Paracelsus.
  ll. 23–4. ‘face, and wings Of aire’. Angels who appeared to men did so by ‘assuming’ a body of thickened air, like mist (Aquinas, Summa Theol. i. 51. 2). The Anniversarie. l. 18. ‘inmates’, i. e. ‘lodgers’, not members of the family; sometimes ‘foreigners, strangers’.
So spake the Enemie of Mankind, enclos’d In Serpent, Inmate bad. Paradise Lost, ix. 494–5.
  l. 22. ‘wee no more’, &c.: ‘wee’ is the MS. reading, ‘now’ that of the editions. ‘In heaven we shall indeed be blest, happy; but so will all, equally happy; whereas here on earth we are kings ruling one another, the best of kings ruling the best of subjects.’ ‘Sir, that all who are happy are equally happy is not true. A peasant and a philosopher may be equally satisfied, but not equally happy. Happiness consists in the multiplicity of agreeable consciousness. A peasant has not capacity for equal happiness with a philosopher’ (Boswell, Johnson). Twicknam garden. Addressed probably to the Duchess of Bedford, who lived at Twickenham, Donne’s patroness and the object of some of his most fervid but enigmatic verses. Compare A Nocturnall upon St. Lucies Day. l. 1. ‘Blasted with sighs’, &c. ‘The very stones of the Chapel,’ he wrote once when preaching in Lent to very small congregations, ‘break out into foliage and fruit—I am the only dead thing who can bring forth nothing alive’ (Cowley Evangelist, May 1918. Father Congreve). ‘Surrounded’, i. e. overflow’d.  l. 17. ‘groane’, so MSS.; the editions read ‘grow’. The reference is to the superstition that the mandrake groaned or shrieked when torn up with a fatal effect to the hearer.  l. 18. ‘Or a stone fountaine’, &c.
Nè già mai neve sotto al sol disparve Come io senti’ me tutto venir meno E farmi una fontana a piè d’un faggio; Gran tempo umido tenni quel viaggio. Chi udì mai d’uom vero nascer fonte? Petrarch, Canz. xxiii. 115 f. Some unknown grove I’ll find, where by the miracle of Love I’ll turne a fountain and divide the yeere By numb’ring every moment with a teere. Habington, Castara, ‘To Reason.’ Slow, slow, fresh fount, keep time with my salt teares. Jonson, Cynthia’s Revells, I. ii.
The Dreame. l. 7. ‘Thou art so truth’. Like God, you are not only true, but truth itself.
Io veggio ben che giammai non si sazia Nostro intelletto, se il ver non lo illustra, Di fuor dal qual nessun vero si spazia. Dante, Paradiso, iv. 124–7.
  ll. 16–17. ‘And knew’st my thoughts, beyond’, &c. The comma is necessary, for Donne does not say she knew his thoughts better than an angel could, but that she read his thoughts directly, which God only, and not the angels, can do.  ll. 27–8. ‘Perchance as torches’, &c. ‘If it [a torch] have never been lighted, it does not easily take light, but it must be bruised and beaten first; if it have been lighted and put out … it does easily conceive fire.’ (Fifty Sermons, 36, p. 332.) A Valediction: of weeping. The first is a general title given to several of the poems. ‘Of weeping’ states the special theme.   l. 9. ‘divers’, i. e. ‘diverse’. The Message. l. 14. ‘crosse’, i. e. ‘cancel’. Editions read ‘break’.
Examine well thy beauty with my truth, And cross my cares, ere greater sums arise. Daniel, Delia, 1.
A nocturnall upon S. Lucies day. l. 12. ‘every dead thing’. He is the quintessence of all negations, ‘absence, darkness, death; things which are not’, the quintessence even of that ‘first nothing’ from which all things are created. ‘Of this we will say no more; for this Nothing, being no creature, is more incomprehensible than all the rest’ (Donne, Essays in Divinity). The poem illustrates Donne’s strength and weakness, his power to produce an intense impression by the most abstract means, here an impression of the sense of nothingness which may overtake one who has lost the central motive of his life. But here and there he refines too much and weakens the effect. A Valediction: forbidding mourning. This, like ‘Sweetest love‘, and ‘Of weeping‘, was written on the occasion of a parting from his wife, perhaps in 1612, when Donne’s wife was unwilling to let him go, saying ‘her divining soul boded her some ill in his absence’. Donne had a vision of her in the daytime, and sending a messenger home learned that her child had been born dead. ‘A copy of verses given by Mr. Donne to his wife at the time he then parted from her. And I beg leave to tell that I have heard critics, learned both in languages and poetry, say that none of the Greek or Latin poets did ever equal them’ (Walton). ‘An admirable poem which none but Donne could have written. Nothing was ever more admirably made out than the figure of the compass’ (Coleridge).   l. 11. ‘trepidation of the spheares’, i. e. the precession of the equinoxes or movement of the axis of the earth, which has altered our position relative to the various constellations. The Extasie. ‘I should never find fault with metaphysical poems, were they all like this, or but half as excellent’ (Coleridge). The Oxford Book of Verse gives some stanzas from this poem, but it must be read as a whole. ‘As late as ten years ago I used to seek and find out grand lines and fine stanzas; but my delight has been far greater since it has consisted more in tracing the leading thought throughout the whole. The former is to much like coveting your neighbours’ goods; in the latter you merge yourself in the author, you become He’ (Coleridge).   l. 55. ‘forces, sense,’ &c. The [Greek], forces or faculties, of the body, are sense, working on which the soul perceives and conceives.  l. 59. ‘Soe soule into the soule may flow’, &c. As the heavenly bodies affect the soul of man through the medium of the air (as was believed), so soul touches soul through the medium of the body. The Relique. l. 27.
‘Comming and going, wee’, &c. The curtesye of England is often to kys. Enterlude of Johan the Evangelist. What favour hast thou had more then a kisse At comming or departing from the Towne? Arden of Feversham, i. 378–9.
The Prohibition. l. 18. ‘So, these extreames shall neithers office doe’. Of these extremes neither shall discharge its office or function. Compare:
And each (though enimes to ethers raigne).
Shakespeare, Sonnets, XXVIII. 5.  l. 22. ‘So shall I, live’, &c. Alive, I shall be the stage on which your victories are daily set forth; dead, I shall be only your triumph achieved once, never to be repeated. Compare:
Great Conquerors greater glory gain By Foes in Triumph led, than slain: The Lawrels that adorn their brows Are pull’d from living, not dead boughs. Butler, Hudibras, I. ii. 1065–8.
Absence. John Hoskins’s poems were lost or destroyed by a Puritan friend of his son in 1653 (Wood, Athenae Oxonienses). A few are preserved in Reliquiæ Wottonianæ and in MSS. This poem, which was first attributed in print to Donne in 1711, appeared in Davison’s Poetical Rhapsody as early as 1602, without any ascription, although Davison was at the time on the outlook for poems by Donne: see Bullen’s introduction to his reprint of the Rhapsody, p. liii. In a MS. in Drummond’s handwriting of poems ‘belonging to John Don’, i. e. of poems by himself and his friends which Donne possessed and Drummond copied, this poem and another,
Love is a foolish melancholy, &c.,
are signed J. H. The latter poem is in a Chetham Library MS. (Manchester) and a British Museum MS. ascribed with some others to ‘Mr. Hoskins’. Of not many wandering seventeenth-century poems is the authorship so well documented. On his Mistris, the Queen of Bohemia. l. 5. ‘What are you when the Sun shall rise?’ This is the reading of the Reliquiae Wottonianae, 1651, and I have let it stand. It gives a less pleasing picture than with ‘Moon’ for ‘Sun’, but a sharper antithesis. Compare the Arabian poet Nabigha’s address to King Nu’man:
All other kings are stars and thou a sun: When the sun rises, lo! the heavens are bare. R. A. Nicholson, A Literary History of the Arabs, 1907.
But the reading ‘moon’ appears early, in Este’s Madrigals, Sixth Set, 1624, and in all the MS. copies of the poem in the British Museum, which Professor Moore Smith has kindly examined for me. The reading ‘moon’ is better adapted to a woman:
And all the foule which in his flood did dwell Gan flock about these twaine, that did excell The rest, so far, as Cynthia doth shend The lesser starres. Spenser, Prothalamion, 119–22.
Another variant is ‘passions’ for ‘Voyces’, l. 8, which is also an improvement. But the Madrigal books and MSS. have less justifiable variations. I have therefore reprinted the Rel. Wot. version as it stands. My texts are not eclectic. The reading ‘Sun’ is supported by a phrase in Donne’s Epithalamion … on the Lady Elizabeth and Count Palatine, 1613, possibly the date of Wotton’s song. Donne speaks of her as a sun, stanza vii:
Here lies a shee Sunne, and a hee Moone here, She gives the best light to his spheare, &c.
The bolder hyperbole is ‘metaphysical’. Loves Victorie. From Aurelian Townshend’s Poems and Masks, ed. E. K. Chambers, Oxford, 1912. The ascription of this and the following poem to Townshend is to some extent conjectural. The Malone MS. 13 (Bodleian), p. 51, and Worcester College MS. 58, p. 237, have many variants in the first of these poems. See E. K. Chambers’s edition, pp. 102 and 115. Elegy over a Tomb. Dated 1617. An Ode upon a Question, &c. The spirit and cadence of this Ode seem to me to echo Donne’s The Extasie, though the philosophic theme is different. Donne’s is a justification of the body as an intermediary in the most spiritual love; Herbert’s, a plea for immortality based on the transcendent worth of love. An earlier version of the poem, Professor Moore Smith tells me, is in Add. MS. 37157, British Museum, where the poem is dated 1630.   l. 1. ‘her Infant-birth’, i. e. probably the snowdrops and earliest flowers. They had faded, and—as though Nature wept for them—a season of rain had followed. I owe this interpretation to Professor Moore Smith. To my inconstant Mistris. A characteristically ‘metaphysical’ variation on the old theme of Wyatt’s ‘My lute, awake!’ Compare with the last stanza Wyatt’s:
Vengeance shall fall on thy disdain That mak’st but game of earnest pain; Trow not alone under the sun Unquit to cause thy lovers plain; Although my lute and I have done.
The ‘metaphysical’ notes are the metaphor of excommunication, apostasy, and damnation; the closely knit logical structure; the vehement close. Printed from Carew’s Poems, 1651. The text of Carew’s poems needs revision, and the canon reconsideration. See C. L. Powell, ‘New Material on Thomas Carew’, Modern Language Review, July, 1916. Ingratefull beauty threatned. A familiar conceit. See Ronsard, Shakespeare, &c.; but the close is Donnean. Compare Elegy vii, ‘Nature’s lay Ideot, I taught thee to love’, and Elegy xix:
Like pictures, or like books gay coverings made For lay-men, are all women thus array’d; Themselves are mystick books, which only wee (Whom their imputed grace will dignifie) Must see reveal’d.
Eternity of Love protested. l. 16. ‘Shall, like a hallowed Lamp, for ever burn.’ Compare:
Now, as in Tullia’s tombe one lampe burnt clear Unchang’d for fifteene hundred yeare. Donne, Epithalamion (Earl of Somerset), xi.
‘Why some lamps include in those bodies have burned many hundred years, as that discovered in the Sepulchre of Tullia, the sister of Cicero, and that of Olibius many years after, near Padua?’ (Sir T. Browne, Vulgar Errors, iii. 21.) ‘They had a precious composition for lamps, amongst the ancients, reserved especially for Tombes, which kept light for many hundreds of yeares.’ (Donne, Fifty Sermons, 36, p. 324.) Ask me no more where Jove bestowes. l. 11. ‘dividing throat’, i. e. ‘descanting’, ‘warbling’. ‘Division’ is ‘the execution of a rapid melodic passage’. One seems to hear and see Celia executing elaborate trills as Carew sits entranced. To Roses in the bosome of Castara. From Habington’s Castara, The first Part, 1634. Of thee (kind boy). From Fragmenta Aurea. A Collection of all the Incomparable Peeces, written by Sir John Suckling, 1646. Oh! for some honest Lovers ghost. Compare Donne’s Loves Deitie (Poems, Oxford, 1912, i, 54):
I long to talke with some old lovers ghost, &c.
Out upon it, I have lov’d. From The Last Remains of Sr John Suckling, 1659. To Cynthia. From Kynaston’s Leoline and Sydanis. With sundry affectionate addresses to his mistresse, under the name of Cynthia, 1642 (‘Cynthiades’, pp. 48–9). Noe more unto my thoughts appeare. This and the next poem are from Malone MS. 13, (Bodleian) pp. 65, 83. The Lark now leaves his watry Nest. From Davenant’s Works, 1673. ll. 11–12. ‘Awake, awake, break through’, &c. Compare:
Others neare you shall whispering speake, And wagers lay, at which side day will breake, And win by observing, then, whose hand it is That opens first a curtaine, hers or his. Donne, Epithalamion … on the Lady Elizabeth, &c.
In l. 4, 1673 reads ‘to implore’; and in the next poem, l. 22, ‘all her Lovers’. Loves Horoscope. From Steps to the Temple. Sacred Poems, with other Delights of the Muses, 1646, 1648. l. 25. ‘twin’d upon’, were united on. Compare:
true Libertie Is lost, which alwayes with right Reason dwells Twinn’d, and from her hath no dividual being. Paradise Lost, xii. 85.
Wishes. To his (supposed) Mistresse. l. 70. ‘fond and slight’. This is the reading of Harl. MSS. 6917–8 (British Museum). The ‘flight’ of all the editions is a printer’s error, an easy error if one recalls the long ‘s’. The MS. spelling is ‘sleight’. To Lucasta, Going beyond the Seas. From Lovelace’s Lucasta, 1649. l. 13. ‘be ‘twixt’ for ‘betwixt’ of Lucasta and later editions. This restores the verb. The Scrutinie. l. 12. ‘By others’. ‘Others may find all joy in thy brown hair, but I must search the black and fair.’ The ‘In others’ of the version in Cotton’s Wits Interpreter gives a different sense: ‘The joy found in thy brown hair may be found elsewhere.’ This jars with what follows, spoiling the antithesis. To Althea. l. 7. ‘The Gods’. One MS. copy reads ‘The birds’. The ‘Gods’ probably are the birds. Compare Aristophanes, The Birds, ll. 685–723, translated by Swinburne, Studies in Song. To Amoret. From Henry Vaughan’s Poems, &c., 1646. ll. 21–2. ‘Though fate’, &c. An echo of Donne’s ‘Dull sublunary lovers love‘, &c. The Call. From John Hall’s Poems, 1646. An Epicurean Ode, i. e. an ode suggested by the Epicurean or materialist philosophy. l. 15. Terra Lemnia. A red clay found in Lemnos and reputed an antidote to poison, but also a name for the essential constituent of the philosopher’s stone. ‘Of what finest clay are you made, of what diamonds your eyes?’ The Repulse. From Stanley’s Poems, 1651. With this poem compare Carew’s A Deposition from Love. La Belle Confidente. l. 24. ‘marries either’s Dust’, i. e. ‘each marries the other’s’. Compare Donne, The Prohibition, l. 18. The Divorce. Compare Donne, The Expiration. l. 21. ‘woe’, i. e. ‘woo’. The Exequies. l. 15. ‘Vast Griefs’. ‘Curae leves loquuntur, ingentes stupent,’ Seneca, Hippolytus, 604. Tell me no more how fair she is. From Henry King’s Poems, 1657. This may not be King’s, but there is no good ground for disfranchising him. Compare Sir William Watson’s:
Bid me no more to other eyes, With wandering worship fare, &c. Odes, &c., 1895.
The Spring. From Cowley’s Works, 1668. Compare this with Donne’s To the Countesse of Bedford, ‘Madame, You have refin’d mee’ (Poems, Oxford, 1912, i, 191–3), a characteristically different treatment of much the same theme; e. g. ll. 47–8 with Donne’s:
to this place You are the season (Madame) you the day, ‘Tis but a grave of spices, till your face Exhale them, and a thick close bud display.
The Change. l. 7. Love‘s foes. Professor Moore Smith conjectures ‘Fort’ for ‘Foes’, 1668. It seems to me a certain correction. To his Coy Mistresse. From Marvell’s Miscellaneous Poems, 1681. l. 34. The 1681 edition reads ‘glew’, which I have with other editions altered to ‘dew’. I am told on philological authority that ‘glew’ may stand for ‘glow’. I shall accept that view when convinced by other examples that a seventeenth-century reader would so have understood it. My own view is that if ‘glew’ be the right reading, it stands for ‘glue’ as in ‘cherry-tree glue’, ‘plum-tree glue’, and that Marvell thought of the dew as an exhalation:
And while thy willing Soul transpires At every pore with instant Fires.
But ‘morning dew’ is a frequent combination; and ‘dew’ suggests at once moisture and glow. Compare:
pleasant the Sun When first on this delightful Land he spreads His orient Beams, on herb, tree, fruit, and flour, Glistring with dew. Paradise Lost, iv. 642–5.
  l. 40. ‘slow-chapt’, i. e. slow-devouring. The chaps, Scottish ‘chafts’, are the jaws. The Gallery. l. 42. ‘does’ for ‘dost’ 1681.  l. 48. Marvell may have changed ‘are’ to ‘were’ when the Commonwealth had sold Charles I’s pictures. See Clarendon, History of the Rebellion, xi. 251. To my Excellent Lucasia. From Poems by the most deservedly Admired Mrs. Katherine Philips, The Matchless Orinda, 1667.