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John Donne (1572–1631). The Poems of John Donne. 1896.

An Anatomy of the World

The First Anniversary

WHEN that rich soul which to her heaven is gone,

Whom all do celebrate, who know they’ve one

—For who is sure he hath a soul, unless

It see, and judge, and follow worthiness,

And by deeds praise it? he who doth not this,

May lodge an inmate soul, but ’tis not his—

When that queen ended here her progress time,

And, as to her standing house, to heaven did climb

Where, loth to make the saints attend her long,

She’s now a part both of the choir and song,

This world in that great earthquake languished;

For in a common bath of tears it bled,

Which drew the strongest vital spirits out.

But succour’d then with a perplexed doubt,

Whether the world did lose, or gain in this

—Because, since now no other way there is,

But goodness, to see her, whom all would see,

All must endeavour to be good as she—

This great consumption to a fever turn’d,

And so the world had fits; it joy’d, it mourn’d;

And as men think that agues physic are,

And th’ ague being spent, give over care;

So thou, sick world, mistakest thyself to be

Well, when, alas! thou’rt in a lethargy.

Her death did wound and tame thee then, and then

Thou might’st have better spared the sun, or man.

That wound was deep, but ’tis more misery,

That thou hast lost thy sense and memory.

’Twas heavy then to hear thy voice of moan,

But this is worse, that thou art speechless grown.

Thou hast forgot thy name thou hadst; thou wast

Nothing but she, and her thou hast o’erpast.

For, as a child kept from the fount, until

A prince, expected long, come to fulfil

The ceremonies, thou unnamed hadst laid,

Had not her coming thee her palace made.

Her name defined thee, gave thee form and frame,

And thou forget’st to celebrate thy name.

Some months she hath been dead—but being dead,

Measures of time are all determined—

But long she hath been away, long, long, yet none

Offers to tell us who it is that’s gone.

But as in states doubtful of future heirs,

When sickness without remedy impairs

The present prince, they’re loth it should be said,

The prince doth languish, or the prince is dead.

So mankind, feeling now a general thaw,

A strong example gone, equal to law,

The cement, which did faithfully compact

And glue all virtues, now resolved and slack’d,

Thought it some blasphemy to say she was dead,

Or that our weakness was discovered

In that confession; therefore spoke no more,

Than tongues, the soul being gone, the loss deplore.

But though it be too late to succour thee,

Sick world, yea dead, yea putrefied, since she,

Thy intrinsic balm and thy preservative,

Can never be renew’d, thou never live,

I—since no man can make thee live—will try

What we may gain by thy Anatomy.

Her death hath taught us dearly, that thou art

Corrupt and mortal in thy purest part.

Let no man say, the world itself being dead,

’Tis labour lost to have discovered

The world’s infirmities, since there is none

Alive to study this dissection;

For there’s a kind of world remaining still;

Though she, which did inanimate and fill

The world, be gone, yet in this last long night

Her ghost doth walk, that is, a glimmering light,

A faint weak love of virtue and of good

Reflects from her, on them which understood

Her worth; and though she have shut in all day,

The twilight of her memory doth stay;

Which, from the carcase of the old world free,

Creates a new world, and new creatures be

Produced; the matter and the stuff of this

Her virtue, and the form our practice is.

And, though to be thus elemented arm

These creatures from home-born intrinsic harm

—For all assumed unto this dignity

So many weedless paradises be,

Which of themselves produce no venomous sin,

Except some foreign serpent bring it in—

Yet because outward storms the strongest break,

And strength itself by confidence grows weak,

This new world may be safer, being told

The dangers and diseases of the old.

For with due temper men do then forego,

Or covet things, when they their true worth know.

There is no health; physicians say that we,

At best, enjoy but a neutrality.

And can there be worse sickness than to know

That we are never well, nor can be so?

We are born ruinous; poor mothers cry

That children come not right, nor orderly,

Except they headlong come and fall upon

An ominous precipitation.

How witty’s ruin, how importunate

Upon mankind! it labour’d to frustrate

Even God’s purpose, and made woman, sent

For man’s relief, cause of his languishment.

They were to good ends, and they are so still,

But accessory, and principal in ill;

For that first marriage was our funeral;

One woman, at one blow, then kill’d us all;

And singly, one by one, they kill us now.

We do delightfully ourselves allow

To that consumption; and, profusely blind,

We kill ourselves to propagate our kind.

And yet we do not that; we are not men;

There is not now that mankind which was then,

When as the sun and man did seem to strive

—Joint-tenants of the world—who should survive;

When stag, and raven, and the long-lived tree,

Compared with man, died in minority;

When if a slow-paced star had stolen away

From the observer’s marking, he might stay

Two or three hundred years to see it again,

And then make up his observation plain;

When, as the age was long, the size was great;

Man’s growth confess’d, and recompensed the meat;

So spacious and large, that every soul

Did a fair kingdom and large realm control;

And when the very stature, thus erect,

Did that soul a good way towards heaven direct.

Where is this mankind now? who lives to age

Fit to be made Methusalem his page?

Alas! we scarce live long enough to try

Whether a true-made clock run right, or lie.

Old grandsires talk of yesterday with sorrow;

And for our children we reserve to-morrow.

So short is life, that every peasant strives,

In a torn house, or field, to have three lives;

And as in lasting, so in length is man,

Contracted to an inch, who was a span.

For had a man at first in forests stray’d,

Or shipwreck’d in the sea, one would have laid

A wager, that an elephant or whale,

That met him, would not hastily assail

A thing so equal to him; now, alas!

The fairies and the pigmies well may pass

As credible; mankind decays so soon,

We’re scarce our fathers’ shadows cast at noon.

Only death adds to our length; nor are we grown

In stature to be men, till we are none.

But this were light, did our less volume hold

All the old text; or had we changed to gold

Their silver, or disposed into less glass

Spirits of virtue, which then scatter’d was.

But ’tis not so; we’re not retired, but damp’d;

And, as our bodies, so our minds are cramp’d.

’Tis shrinking, not close weaving that hath thus

In mind and body both bedwarfed us.

We seem ambitious God’s whole work to undo;

Of nothing He made us, and we strive too

To bring ourselves to nothing back; and we

Do what we can to do ’t so soon as He.

With new diseases on ourselves we war,

And with new physic, a worse engine far.

This man, this world’s vice-emperor, in whom

All faculties, all graces are at home

—And if in other creatures they appear,

They’re but man’s ministers and legates there,

To work on their rebellions, and reduce

Them to civility, and to man’s use—

This man, whom God did woo, and, loth to attend

Till man came up, did down to man descend;

This man so great, that all that is, is his,

O, what a trifle, and poor thing he is!

If man were anything, he’s nothing now.

Help, or at least some time to waste, allow

To his other wants, yet when he did depart

With her whom we lament, he lost his heart.

She, of whom th’ ancients seemed to prophesy,

When they called virtues by the name of she;

She, in whom virtue was so much refined,

That for allay unto so pure a mind

She took the weaker sex; she that could drive

The poisonous tincture, and the stain of Eve,

Out of her thoughts and deeds, and purify

All by a true religious alchemy;

She, she is dead; she’s dead; when thou know’st this

Thou know’st how poor a trifling thing man is,

And learn’st thus much by our Anatomy,

The heart being perish’d, no part can be free,

And that except thou feed, not banquet, on

The supernatural food, religion,

Thy better growth grows withered and scant;

Be more than man, or thou’rt less than an ant.

Then as mankind, so is the world’s whole frame,

Quite out of joint, almost created lame;

For before God had made up all the rest,

Corruption enter’d and depraved the best.

It seized the angels, and then first of all

The world did in her cradle take a fall,

And turn’d her brains, and took a general maim,

Wronging each joint of th’ universal frame.

The noblest part, man, felt it first; and then

Both beasts and plants, cursed in the curse of man.

So did the world from the first hour decay;

That evening was beginning of the day.

And now the springs and summers which we see,

Like sons of women after fifty be.

And new philosophy calls all in doubt;

The element of fire is quite put out;

The sun is lost, and th’ earth, and no man’s wit

Can well direct him where to look for it.

And freely men confess that this world’s spent,

When in the planets, and the firmament

They seek so many new; they see that this

Is crumbled out again to his atomies.

’Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone,

All just supply, and all relation.

Prince, subject, father, son, are things forgot,

For every man alone thinks he hath got

To be a phœnix, and that then can be

None of that kind of which he is, but he.

This is the world’s condition now, and now

She that should all parts to reunion bow;

She that had all magnetic force alone,

To draw and fasten sunder’d parts in one;

She whom wise nature had invented then,

When she observed that every sort of men

Did in their voyage in this world’s sea stray,

And needed a new compass for their way;

She that was best, and first original

Of all fair copies, and the general

Steward to fate; she whose rich eyes and breast

Gilt the West Indies, and perfumed the East;

Whose having breathed in this world did bestow

Spice on those isles, and bade them still smell so;

And that rich Indy, which doth gold inter,

Is but as single money coin’d from her;

She to whom this world must itself refer,

As suburbs, or the microcosm of her;

She, she is dead; she’s dead; when thou know’st this,

Thou know’st how lame a cripple this world is;

And learn’st thus much by our Anatomy,

That this world’s general sickness doth not lie

In any humour, or one certain part,

But as thou saw’st it, rotten at the heart.

Thou seest a hectic fever hath got hold

Of the whole substance, not to be controll’d;

And that thou hast but one way, not to admit

The world’s infection—to be none of it.

For the world’s subtlest immaterial parts

Feel this consuming wound and age’s darts;

For the world’s beauty is decay’d, or gone

—Beauty; that’s colour and proportion.

We think the heavens enjoy their spherical,

Their round proportion, embracing all;

But yet their various and perplexed course,

Observed in divers ages, doth enforce

Men to find out so many eccentric parts,

Such diverse downright lines, such overthwarts,

As disproportion that pure form; it tears

The firmament in eight-and-forty shares,

And in these constellations then arise

New stars, and old do vanish from our eyes;

As though heaven suffered earthquakes, peace or war,

When new towers rise, and old demolish’d are.

They have impaled within a zodiac

The free-born sun, and keep twelve signs awake

To watch his steps; the Goat and Crab control,

And fright him back, who else to either pole,

Did not these tropics fetter him, might run.

For his course is not round, nor can the sun

Perfect a circle, or maintain his way

One inch direct; but where he rose to-day

He comes no more, but with a cozening line,

Steals by that point, and so is serpentine;

And seeming weary with his reeling thus,

He means to sleep, being now fallen nearer us.

So of the stars which boast that they do run

In circle still, none ends where he begun.

All their proportion ’s lame, it sinks, it swells;

For of meridians and parallels

Man hath weaved out a net, and this net thrown

Upon the heavens, and now they are his own.

Loth to go up the hill, or labour thus

To go to heaven, we make heaven come to us.

We spur, we rein the stars, and in their race

They’re diversely content to obey our pace.

But keeps the earth her round proportion still?

Doth not a Teneriffe or higher hill

Rise so high like a rock, that one might think

The floating moon would shipwreck there and sink?

Seas are so deep that whales, being struck to-day,

Perchance to-morrow scarce at middle way

Of their wish’d journey’s end, the bottom, die.

And men, to sound depths, so much line untie

As one might justly think that there would rise

At end thereof one of th’ antipodes.

If under all a vault infernal be

—Which sure is spacious, except that we

Invent another torment, that there must

Millions into a straight hot room be thrust—

Then solidness and roundness have no place.

Are these but warts and pockholes in the face

Of th’ earth? Think so; but yet confess, in this

The world’s proportion disfigured is;

That those two lees whereon it doth rely,

Reward and punishment, are bent awry.

And, O, it can no more be questioned,

That beauty’s best proportion is dead,

Since even grief itself, which now alone

Is left us, is without proportion.

She, by whose lines proportion should be

Examined, measure of all symmetry,

Whom had that ancient seen, who thought souls made

Of harmony, he would at next have said

That harmony was she, and thence infer

That souls were but resultances from her,

And did from her into our bodies go,

As to our eyes the forms from objects flow;

She, who if those great doctors truly said

That th’ ark to man’s proportion was made,

Had been a type for that, as that might be

A type of her in this, that contrary

Both elements and passions lived at peace

In her, who caused all civil war to cease.

She, after whom what form soe’er we see

Is discord and rude incongruity;

She, she is dead; she’s dead; when thou know’st this,

Thou know’st how ugly a monster this world is;

And learn’st thus much by our Anatomy,

That here is nothing to enamour thee;

And that not only faults in inward parts,

Corruptions in our brains, or in our hearts,

Poisoning the fountains whence our actions spring,

Endanger us; but that if everything

Be not done fitly and in proportion,

To satisfy wise and good lookers-on

—Since most men be such as most think they be—

They’re loathsome too, by this deformity.

For good, and well, must in our actions meet;

Wicked is not much worse than indiscreet.

But beauty’s other second element,

Colour and lustre, now is as near spent.

And had the world his just proportion,

Were it a ring still, yet the stone is gone.

As a compassionate turquoise, which doth tell,

By looking pale, the wearer is not well;

As gold falls sick being stung with mercury,

All the world’s parts of such complexion be.

When nature was most busy, the first week,

Swaddling the new-born earth, God seem’d to like

That she should sport herself sometimes, and play,

To mingle and vary colours every day;

And then, as though she could not make enow,

Himself his various rainbow did allow.

Sight is the noblest sense of any one;

Yet sight hath only colour to feed on,

And colour is decay’d; summer’s robe grows

Dusky, and like an oft dyed garment shows.

Our blushing red, which used in cheeks to spread,

Is inward sunk, and only our souls are red.

Perchance the world might have recovered,

If she whom we lament had not been dead.

But she, in whom all white, and red, and blue

(Beauty’s ingredients) voluntary grew,

As in an unvex’d paradise; from whom

Did all things’ verdure, and their lustre come;

Whose composition was miraculous,

Being all colour, all diaphanous,

For air and fire but thick gross bodies were,

And liveliest stones but drowsy and pale to her;

She, she is dead; she’s dead; when thou know’st this,

Thou know’st how wan a ghost this our world is;

And learn’st thus much by our Anatomy,

That it should more affright than pleasure thee;

And that, since all fair colour then did sink,

’Tis now but wicked vanity, to think

To colour vicious deeds with good pretence,

Or with bought colours to illude men’s sense.

Nor in ought more this world’s decay appears,

Than that her influence the heaven forbears,

Or that the elements do not feel this.

The father or the mother barren is;

The clouds conceive not rain, or do not pour,

In the due birth-time, down the balmy shower;

Th’ air doth not motherly sit on the earth,

To hatch her seasons, and give all things birth.

Spring-times were common cradles, but are tombs,

And false conceptions fill the general wombs.

Th’ air shows such meteors, as none can see,

Not only what they mean, but what they be;

Earth such new worms, as would have troubled much

Th’ Egyptian Mages to have made more such.

What artist now dares boast that he can bring

Heaven hither, or constellate anything,

So as the influence of those stars may be

Imprison’d in an herb, or charm, or tree,

And do by touch, all which those stars could do?

The art is lost, and correspondence too,

For heaven gives little, and the earth takes less,

And man least knows their trade and purposes.

If this commerce ’twixt heaven and earth were not

Embarr’d, and all this traffic quite forgot,

She, for whose loss we have lamented thus,

Would work more fully, and powerfully on us.

Since herbs and roots by dying lose not all,

But they, yea ashes too, are medicinal;

Death could not quench her virtue so, but that

It would be—if not follow’d—wonder’d at;

And all the world would be one dying swan,

To sing her funeral praise, and vanish then.

But as some serpents’ poison hurteth not,

Except it be from the live serpent shot,

So doth her virtue need her here, to fit

That unto us, she working more than it.

But she, in whom to such maturity

Virtue was grown, past growth, that it must die;

She, from whose influence all impression came,

But by receivers’ impotencies lame;

Who, though she could not transubstantiate

All states to gold, yet gilded every state,

So that some princes have some temperance;

Some counsellors, some purpose to advance

The common profit; and some people have

Some stay, no more than kings should give, to crave;

Some women have some taciturnity;

Some nunneries some grains of chastity;

She, that did thus much, and much more could do,

But that our age was iron, and rusty too,

(She, she is dead; she’s dead; when thou know’st this

Thou know’st how dry a cinder this world is;

And learn’st thus much by our Anatomy,

That ’tis in vain to dew, or mollify

It with thy tears, or sweat, or blood; nothing

Is worth our travail, grief, or perishing,

But those rich joys which did possess her heart,

Of which she’s now partaker, and a part.

But as in cutting up a man that’s dead,

The body will not last out, to have read

On every part, and therefore men direct

Their speech to parts that are of most effect;

So the world’s carcase would not last, if I

Were punctual in this Anatomy;

Nor smells it well to hearers, if one tell

Them their disease, who fain would think they’re well.

Here therefore be the end; and blessed maid,

Of whom is meant whatever has been said,

Or shall be spoken well by any tongue,

Whose name refines coarse lines, and makes prose song,

Accept this tribute, and his first year’s rent;

Who till his dark short taper’s end be spent,

As oft as thy feast sees this widow’d earth,

Will yearly celebrate thy second birth;

That is, thy death; for though the soul of man

Be got when man is made, ’tis born but then

When man doth die; our body ’s as the womb,

And as a mid-wife death directs it home.

And you, her creatures, whom she works upon,

And have your last and best concoction

From her example and her virtue, if you

In reverence to her do think it due,

That no one should her praises thus rehearse,

As matter fit for chronicle, not verse;

Vouchsafe to call to mind that God did make

A last and lasting’st piece, a song. He spake

To Moses to deliver unto all

That song, because He knew they would let fall

The law, the prophets, and the history,

But keep the song still in their memory.

Such an opinion, in due measure, made

Me this great office boldly to invade;

Nor could incomprehensibleness deter

Me from thus trying to imprison her;

Which when I saw that a strict grave could do,

I saw not why verse might not do so too.

Verse hath a middle nature; heaven keeps souls,

The grave keeps bodies, verse the fame enrolls.