To the Countess of Bedford [To have written then, when you writ, seem'd to me ...]
Donne, John. The Satires, Epigrams and Verse Letters of John Donne. Edited by W. Milgate. London: Oxford University Press, 1967: 95-98.
1 To have written then, when you writ, seem'd to me
2Worst of spiritual vices, simony ;
3And not to have written then seems little less
4Than worst of civil vices, thanklessness.
5In this, my debt I seem'd loth to confess ;
6In that, I seem'd to shun beholdingness.
7But 'tis not so ; nothings, as I am, may
8Pay all they have, and yet have all to pay.
9Such borrow in their payments, and owe more
10By having leave to write so, than before.
11Yet, since rich mines in barren grounds are shown,
12May not I yield (not gold but) coal or stone ?
13Temples were not demolish'd, though profane ;
14Here Peter Jove's; there Paul hath Dian's fane.
15So whether my hymns you admit or choose,
16In me you've hallowed a pagan muse,
17And denizen'd a stranger, who, mistaught
18By blamers of the times they marr'd, hath sought
19Virtues in corners, which now bravelv do
20Shine in the world's best part, or all it-you.
21I have been told, that virtue in courtiers' hearts
22Suffers an ostracism, and departs.
23Profit, ease, fitness, plenty, bid it go ;
24But whither, only knowing you, I know.
25Your (or you) virtue, two vast uses serves ;
26It ransoms one sex, and one court preserves.
27There's nothing but your worth, which being true
28Is known to any other, not to you.
29And you can never know it ; to admit
30No knowledge of your worth, is some of it.
31 But since to you your praises discords be,
32Stoop others' ills to meditate with me.
33O ! to confess we know not what we should,
34Is half excuse, we know not what we would.
35Lightness depresseth us, emptiness fills ;
36We sweat and faint, yet still go down the hills.
37As new philosophy arrests the sun,
38And bids the passive earth about it run,
39So we have dull'd our mind ; it hath no ends ;
40Only the body's busy, and pretends.
41As dead low earth eclipses and controls
42The quick high moon, so doth the body souls.
43In none but us are such mix'd engines found,
44As hands of double office ; for the ground
45We till with them, and them to heaven we raise.
46Who prayerless labours, or, without this, prays,
47Doth but one half, that's none; He which said, "Plough
48And look not back,." to look up doth allow.
49Good seed degenerates, and oft obeys
50The soil's disease, and into cockle strays.
51Let the mind's thoughts be but transplanted so
52Into the body, and bastardly they grow.
53What hate could hurt our bodies like our love ?
54We, but no foreign tyrants, could remove
55These not engraved, but inborn dignities,
56Caskets of souls, temples and palaces ;
57For bodies shall from death redeemed be,
58Souls but preserved, born naturally free.
59As men to our prisons now, souls to us are sent,
60Which learn vice there, and come in innocent.
61First seeds of every creature are in us ;
62Whate'er the world hath bad, or precious,
63Man's body can produce ; hence hath it been
64That stones, worms, frogs, and snakes in man are seen.
65But whoe'er saw, though nature can work so,
66That pearl, or gold, or corn in man did grow ?
67We've added to the world Virginia, and sent
68Two new stars lately to the firmament.
69Why grudge we us (not heaven) the dignity
70To increase with ours those fair souls' company ?
71 But I must end this letter; though it do
72Stand on two truths, neither is true to you.
73Virtue has some perverseness, for she will
74Neither believe her good, nor others' ill.
75Even in you, virtue's best paradise,
76Virtue hath some, but wise degrees of vice.
77Too many virtues, or too much of one,
78Begets in you unjust suspicion ;
79And ignorance of vice makes virtue less,
80Quenching compassion of our wretchedness.
81But these are riddles ; some aspersion
82Of vice becomes well some complexion.
83Statesmen purge vice with vice, and may corrode
84The bad with bad, a spider with a toad.
85For so, ill thralls not them, but they tame ill,
86And make her do much good against her will.
87But in your commonwealth or world in you,
88Vice hath no office or good work to do.
89Take then no vicious purge, but be content
90With cordial virtue, your known nourishment.
RPO poem Editors:
Ian Lancashire, assisted by Ana Berdinskikh