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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. The Book of Elizabethan Verse. 1907.

An Elegy upon the Death of Doctor Donne

Thomas Carew (1595?–1639?)

CAN we not force from widow’d Poetry,

Now thou art dead, great Donne, one elegy

To crown thy hearse? Why yet did we not trust,

Though with unkneaded, dough-bak’d prose, thy dust;

Such as the unsizar’d lect’rer from the flow’r

Of fading rhetoric, short-liv’d as his hour,

Dry as the sand that measures it, might lay

Upon the ashes on the funeral day?

Have we nor tune, nor voice? Didst thou dispense

Through all our language both the words and sense?

’Tis a sad truth. The pulpit may her plain

And sober Christian precepts still retain;

Doctrines it may, and wholesome uses, frame,

Grave homilies, and lectures; but the flame

Of thy brave soul (that shot such heat and light

As burnt our Earth, and made our darkness bright,

Committed holy rapes upon the will,

Did through the eye the melting hearts distil,

And the deep knowledge of dark truths so teach

As sense might judge what fancy could not reach)

Must be desir’d forever. So the fire

That fills with spirit and heat the Delphic quire,

Which kindled first by the Promethean breath,

Glow’d here a while, lies quench’d now in thy death.

The Muses’ garden, with pedantic weeds

O’erspread, was purg’d by thee; the lazy seeds

Of servile imitation thrown away,

And fresh invention planted. Thou didst pay

The debts of our penurious bankrupt age:

Licentious thefts, that make poetic rage

A mimic fury, when our souls must be

Possest, or with Anacreon’s ecstasy

Or Pindar’s, not their own; the subtle cheat

Of sly exchanges, and the juggling feat

Of two-edg’d words; or whatsoever wrong

By ours was done the Greek or Latin tongue,

Thou hast redeem’d; and open’d us a mine

Of rich and pregnant fancy; drawn a line

Of masculine expression, which had good

Old Orpheus seen, or all the ancient brood

Our superstitious fools admire, and hold

Their lead more precious than thy burnish’d gold,

Thou hadst been their exchequer, and no more

They each in other’s dung had search’d for ore.

Thou shalt yield no precedence, but of time,

And the blind fate of language, whose tun’d chime

More charms the outward sense; yet thou may’st claim

From so great disadvantage greater fame,

Since to the awe of thy imperious wit

Our troublesome language bends, made only fit

With her tough thick-rib’d hoops to gird about

Thy giant fancy, which had prov’d too stout

For their soft, melting phrases. As in time

They had the start, so did they cull the prime

Buds of invention many a hundred year,

And left the rifled fields, besides the fear

To touch their harvest; yet from those bare lands

Of what was only thine, thy only hands

(And that their smallest work) have gleaned more

Than all those times and tongues could reap before.

But thou art gone, and thy strict laws will be

Too hard for libertines in poetry;

They will recall the goodly, exil’d train

Of gods and goddesses, which in thy just reign

Was banish’d noble poems. Now, with these,

The silenc’d tales i’ th’ Metamorphoses

Shall stuff their lines, and swell the windy page;

Till verse, refined by thee, in this last age

Turn ballad-rhime, or those old idols be

Adorn’d again with new apostasy.

Oh pardon me! that break with untun’d verse

The reverent silence that attends thy hearse;

Whose solemn, awful murmurs were to thee,

More than these rude lines, a loud elegy;

That did proclaim in a dumb eloquence

The death of all the arts, whose influence,

Grown feeble, in these panting numbers lies,

Gasping short-winded accents, and so dies:

So doth the swiftly-turning wheel not stand

I’ th’ instant we withdraw the moving hand,

But some short-time retain a faint, weak course,

By virtue of the first impulsive force;

And so, whilst I cast on thy funeral pile

Thy crown of bays, oh let it crack a while,

And spit disdain, till the devouring flashes

Suck all the moisture up, then turn to ashes.

I will not draw the envy, to engross

All thy perfections, or weep all the loss;

Those are too numerous for one elegy,

And this too great to be express’d by me:

Let others carve the rest; it shall suffice,

I on thy grave this epitaph incise:

“Here lies a king that rul’d as he thought fit

The universal monarchy of wit;

Here lies two flamens, and both those the best;

Apollo’s first, at last the true God’s priest.”