An Anatomy of the World

Original Text: 
John Donne, An anatomy of the world ([W. S.] for S. Macham, 1611). STC 7022. Cambridge: Roxburghe Club, 1951. B-12 1544 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
by occasion of the untimely death of Mistress
Elizabeth Drury, the frailty and the decay
of this whole world is represented
2Whom all do celebrate, who know they have one
3(For who is sure he hath a soul, unless
4It see, and judge, and follow worthiness,
5And by deeds praise it? He who doth not this,
6May lodge an inmate soul, but 'tis not his)
10She's now a part both of the choir, and song;
11This world, in that great earthquake languished;
12For in a common bath of tears it bled,
14But succour'd then with a perplexed doubt,
15Whether the world did lose, or gain in this,
16(Because since now no other way there is,
17But goodness, to see her, whom all would see,
18All must endeavour to be good as she)
19This great consumption to a fever turn'd,
20And so the world had fits; it joy'd, it mourn'd;
21And, as men think, that agues physic are,
22And th' ague being spent, give over care,
23So thou, sick world, mistak'st thy self to be
24Well, when alas, thou'rt in a lethargy.
25Her death did wound and tame thee then, and then
26Thou might'st have better spar'd the sun, or man.
27That wound was deep, but 'tis more misery
29'Twas heavy then to hear thy voice of moan,
30But this is worse, that thou art speechless grown.
31Thou hast forgot thy name thou hadst; thou wast
33For, as a child kept from the font until
34A prince, expected long, come to fulfill
35The ceremonies, thou unnam'd had'st laid,
36Had not her coming, thee her palace made;
38And thou forget'st to celebrate thy name.
39Some months she hath been dead (but being dead,
40Measures of times are all determined)
41But long she'ath been away, long, long, yet none
42Offers to tell us who it is that's gone.
43But as in states doubtful of future heirs,
44When sickness without remedy impairs
45The present prince, they're loath it should be said,
46"The prince doth languish," or "The prince is dead;"
47So mankind feeling now a general thaw,
48A strong example gone, equal to law,
49The cement which did faithfully compact
50And glue all virtues, now resolv'd, and slack'd,
51Thought it some blasphemy to say sh'was dead,
52Or that our weakness was discovered
53In that confession; therefore spoke no more
54Than tongues, the soul being gone, the loss deplore.
55But though it be too late to succour thee,
56Sick world, yea dead, yea putrified, since she
58Can never be renew'd, thou never live,
59I (since no man can make thee live) will try,
61Her death hath taught us dearly that thou art
62Corrupt and mortal in thy purest part.
63Let no man say, the world itself being dead,
64'Tis labour lost to have discovered
65The world's infirmities, since there is none
66Alive to study this dissection;
67For there's a kind of world remaining still,
68Though she which did inanimate and fill
69The world, be gone, yet in this last long night,
70Her ghost doth walk; that is a glimmering light,
71A faint weak love of virtue, and of good,
72Reflects from her on them which understood
73Her worth; and though she have shut in all day,
74The twilight of her memory doth stay,
75Which, from the carcass of the old world free,
76Creates a new world, and new creatures be
77Produc'd. The matter and the stuff of this,
78Her virtue, and the form our practice is.
79And though to be thus elemented, arm
80These creatures from home-born intrinsic harm,
82So many weedless paradises be,
83Which of themselves produce no venomous sin,
84Except some foreign serpent bring it in)
85Yet, because outward storms the strongest break,
86And strength itself by confidence grows weak,
87This new world may be safer, being told
88The dangers and diseases of the old;
89For with due temper men do then forgo,
90Or covet things, when they their true worth know.
91There is no health; physicians say that we
92At best enjoy but a neutrality.
93And can there be worse sickness than to know
94That we are never well, nor can be so?
95We are born ruinous: poor mothers cry
96That children come not right, nor orderly;
97Except they headlong come and fall upon
98An ominous precipitation.
99How witty's ruin! how importunate
100Upon mankind! It labour'd to frustrate
101Even God's purpose; and made woman, sent
102For man's relief, cause of his languishment.
103They were to good ends, and they are so still,
104But accessory, and principal in ill,
105For that first marriage was our funeral;
106One woman at one blow, then kill'd us all,
107And singly, one by one, they kill us now.
108We do delightfully our selves allow
109To that consumption; and profusely blind,
110We kill our selves to propagate our kind.
111And yet we do not that; we are not men;
112There is not now that mankind, which was then,
113When as the sun and man did seem to strive,
114(Joint tenants of the world) who should survive;
115When stag, and raven, and the long-liv'd tree,
116Compar'd with man, died in minority;
118From the observer's marking, he might stay
119Two or three hundred years to see't again,
120And then make up his observation plain;
121When, as the age was long, the size was great
122(Man's growth confess'd, and recompens'd the meat),
123So spacious and large, that every soul
124Did a fair kingdom, and large realm control;
125And when the very stature, thus erect,
126Did that soul a good way towards heaven direct.
127Where is this mankind now? Who lives to age,
128Fit to be made Methusalem his page?
129Alas, we scarce live long enough to try
130Whether a true-made clock run right, or lie.
131Old grandsires talk of yesterday with sorrow,
132And for our children we reserve tomorrow.
133So short is life, that every peasant strives,
135And as in lasting, so in length is man
136Contracted to an inch, who was a span;
137For had a man at first in forests stray'd,
138Or shipwrack'd in the sea, one would have laid
139A wager, that an elephant, or whale,
140That met him, would not hastily assail
141A thing so equall to him; now alas,
142The fairies, and the pigmies well may pass
143As credible; mankind decays so soon,
144We'are scarce our fathers' shadows cast at noon,
145Only death adds t'our length: nor are we grown
146In stature to be men, till we are none.
147But this were light, did our less volume hold
148All the old text; or had we chang'd to gold
149Their silver; or dispos'd into less glass
150Spirits of virtue, which then scatter'd was.
151But 'tis not so; w'are not retir'd, but damp'd;
153'Tis shrinking, not close weaving, that hath thus
154In mind and body both bedwarfed us.
155We seem ambitious, God's whole work t'undo;
156Of nothing he made us, and we strive too,
157To bring our selves to nothing back; and we
158Do what we can, to do't so soon as he.
159With new diseases on our selves we war,
160And with new physic, a worse engine far.
161Thus man, this world's vice-emperor, in whom
162All faculties, all graces are at home
163(And if in other creatures they appear,
164They're but man's ministers and legates there
165To work on their rebellions, and reduce
166Them to civility, and to man's use);
168Till man came up, did down to man descend,
169This man, so great, that all that is, is his,
170O what a trifle, and poor thing he is!
171If man were anything, he's nothing now;
172Help, or at least some time to waste, allow
173T'his other wants, yet when he did depart
174With her whom we lament, he lost his heart.
175She, of whom th'ancients seem'd to prophesy,
176When they call'd virtues by the name of she;
177She in whom virtue was so much refin'd,
178That for alloy unto so pure a mind
179She took the weaker sex; she that could drive
180The poisonous tincture, and the stain of Eve,
181Out of her thoughts, and deeds, and purify
182All, by a true religious alchemy,
183She, she is dead; she's dead: when thou knowest this,
184Thou knowest how poor a trifling thing man is,
185And learn'st thus much by our anatomy,
186The heart being perish'd, no part can be free,
187And that except thou feed (not banquet) on
188The supernatural food, religion,
189Thy better growth grows withered, and scant;
190Be more than man, or thou'rt less than an ant.
191Then, as mankind, so is the world's whole frame
192Quite out of joint, almost created lame,
193For, before God had made up all the rest,
194Corruption ent'red, and deprav'd the best;
195It seiz'd the angels, and then first of all
196The world did in her cradle take a fall,
197And turn'd her brains, and took a general maim,
198Wronging each joint of th'universal frame.
199The noblest part, man, felt it first; and then
200Both beasts and plants, curs'd in the curse of man.
201So did the world from the first hour decay,
202That evening was beginning of the day,
203And now the springs and summers which we see,
204Like sons of women after fifty be.
207The sun is lost, and th'earth, and no man's wit
208Can well direct him where to look for it.
209And freely men confess that this world's spent,
210When in the planets and the firmament
211They seek so many new; they see that this
213'Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone,
214All just supply, and all relation;
215Prince, subject, father, son, are things forgot,
216For every man alone thinks he hath got
218None of that kind, of which he is, but he.
219This is the world's condition now, and now
220She that should all parts to reunion bow,
221She that had all magnetic force alone,
222To draw, and fasten sund'red parts in one;
223She whom wise nature had invented then
224When she observ'd that every sort of men
225Did in their voyage in this world's sea stray,
226And needed a new compass for their way;
227She that was best and first original
228Of all fair copies, and the general
229Steward to fate; she whose rich eyes and breast
230Gilt the West Indies, and perfum'd the East;
231Whose having breath'd in this world, did bestow
232Spice on those Isles, and bade them still smell so,
233And that rich India which doth gold inter,
234Is but as single money, coin'd from her;
235She to whom this world must it self refer,
236As suburbs or the microcosm of her,
237She, she is dead; she's dead: when thou know'st this,
238Thou know'st how lame a cripple this world is


1] Elizabeth Drury, the fifteen-year-old daughter of Donne's wealthy patron and friend, Sir Robert Drury, died in 1610. Donne seems to have first written his Funeral Elegy and the following year "The First Anniversary." In 1612, while with Sir Robert in France, he wrote "The Second Anniversary.'' The two anniversaries, when first published in 1611 and 1612, were criticized for their hyperbole of compliment, but Donne replied to one accusation of blasphemy by saying that "he described the Idea of a Woman, and not as she was." Back to Line
7] progress: royal state journey. Back to Line
8] standing: lasting, permanent. Back to Line
9] attend: await. Back to Line
13] vital spirits: one of the subtle or refined substances or fluids supposed to permeate the blood and organs of the body; "vital spirits" resided in the heart, "natural" and "animal" (from animus) spirits in the liver and the brain. Back to Line
28] sense: powers of the senses. Back to Line
32] o'erpast: passed thoughtlessly. Back to Line
37] form: in scholastic thought the principle by which a thing is what it is; the soul is the form of the body.
frame: shape. Back to Line
57] intrinsic balm: see note on line 6, "A Nocturnal." Back to Line
60] anatomy: dissection. Back to Line
81] assum'd: raised. Back to Line
117] slow-pac'd star: comet. Back to Line
134] torn: broken down.
three lives: tenure under which land was held during the joint lives of three persons or the longest-lived of them. Back to Line
152] retir'd: withdrawn. Back to Line
167] attend: wait. Back to Line
205] new philosophy: the new science, especially that of Copernicus and Galileo, as in lines 207 ff. Back to Line
206] The old concentric arrangement of the elements, with fire at the top, had been repudiated. Back to Line
212] atomies: atoms. Back to Line
217] phoenix: i.e., unique. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
3RP 1.183.