The Calm

Original Text: 
John Donne, Poems, by J. D. With elegies on the authors death (M. F. for J. Marriot, 1633). MICF no. 556 Robarts Library. Facs. edn. (Menston: Scolar Press, 1969). PR 2245 A2 1633A. STC 7045
2A stupid calm, but nothing it, doth 'suage.
3The fable is inverted, and far more
5Storms chafe, and soon wear out themselves, or us;
6In calms, Heaven laughs to see us languish thus.
7As steady'as I can wish that my thoughts were,
8Smooth as thy mistress' glass, or what shines there,
10Seek, when we can move, our ships rooted be.
11As water did in storms, now pitch runs out;
12As lead, when a fir'd church becomes one spout.
14Like courts removing, or like ended plays.
15The fighting-place now seamen's rags supply;
17No use of lanthorns; and in one place lay
18Feathers and dust, to-day and yesterday.
19Earth's hollownesses, which the world's lungs are,
20Have no more wind than the upper vault of air.
24Dear friends, which meet dead in great fishes' jaws;
25And on the hatches, as on altars, lies
26Each one, his own priest, and own sacrifice.
27Who live, that miracle do multiply,
29If in despite of these we swim, that hath
30No more refreshing than our brimstone bath;
31But from the sea into the ship we turn,
32Like parboil'd wretches, on the coals to burn.
35Languish our ships. Now as a myriad
36Of ants durst th' emperor's lov'd snake invade,
41Of being belov'd and loving, or the thirst
42Of honour, or fair death, out-push'd me first,
43I lose my end; for here, as well as I,
44A desperate may live, and a coward die.
45Stag, dog, and all which from or towards flies,
46Is paid with life or prey, or doing dies.
47Fate grudges us all, and doth subtly lay
48A scourge, 'gainst which we all forget to pray.
49He that at sea prays for more wind, as well
50Under the poles may beg cold, heat in hell.
51What are we then? How little more, alas,
52Is man now, than before he was? He was
53Nothing; for us, we are for nothing fit;
55We have no power, no will, no sense; I lie,
56I should not then thus feel this misery.


1] One of Donne's Letters to Several Personages. In the summer of 1597 Donne took part in an expedition of Essex and Raleigh against the Spaniards. While with the fleet he wrote two verse epistles, "The Storm" and "The Calm," descriptive of incidents on the voyage. The first of these, and almost certainly the second also, was addressed to his friend, Christopher Brooke, his fellow-student at Lincoln's Inn. Back to Line
4] A reference to the fable of the frogs choosing a king. Back to Line
9] those isles which we seek. The Azores. Back to Line
13] trim. Ornament. Back to Line
16] frippery. An old-clothes shop. Back to Line
21] lost friends. The squadrons of Essex and Raleigh lost each other at one stage of the voyage. Back to Line
22] meteor-like. The reference is not to a shooting star but to the aurora or some kindred phenomenon. Back to Line
23] calenture. Fever (Spanish calentura). A delirium in which, it was said, sailors desired to leap into the sea, thinking it a green field. Back to Line
28] Alluding to the story of the fiery furnace (Daniel, iii). Back to Line
33] Bizjazet. See Marlowe's Tamburlaine, IV, ii and V, ii. Bajazeth, Sultan of Turkey, defeated by the Scythian shepherd, Tamburlaine, is imprisoned in a cage and mocked by his conqueror, until he finally kills himself. Back to Line
34] Samson. See Judges, xvi, 16-19. 35-36. An allusion to a story told of the Emperor Tiberius by Suetonius. Back to Line
37] sea-gaols (not "sea-gulls" as in some editions). Galleys were rowed by convicts. finny chips. The phrase is descriptive of their flatness and of their numerous oars. Back to Line
38] pinnaces. The light and swift scouting vessels of the fleet, which, in the absence of wind, are slower than the galleys. Back to Line
39] rotten state. Bad financial condition. Back to Line
40] queasy. Nauseating. Back to Line
54] disproportion it. Throw us out of harmony with our surroundings. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
2RP.1. 282