An Elegy upon the Death of the Dean of St. Paul's, Dr. John Donne

Original Text: 
John Donne, Poems, by J. D. With elegies on the authors death (M. F. for J. Marriot, 1633). MICF no. 556 ROBA. Facs. edn. Menston: Scolar Press, 1969. PR 2245 A2 1633A. STC 7045
1Can we not force from widow'd poetry,
2Now thou art dead (great Donne) one elegy
3To crown thy hearse? Why yet dare we not trust,
4Though with unkneaded dough-bak'd prose, thy dust,
6Of fading rhetoric, short-liv'd as his hour,
8Upon thy ashes, on the funeral day?
9Have we no voice, no tune? Didst thou dispense
10Through all our language, both the words and sense?
11'Tis a sad truth. The pulpit may her plain
12And sober Christian precepts still retain,
13Doctrines it may, and wholesome uses, frame,
15Of thy brave soul (that shot such heat and light
16As burnt our earth and made our darkness bright,
17Committed holy rapes upon our will,
18Did through the eye the melting heart distil,
19And the deep knowledge of dark truths so teach
20As sense might judge what fancy could not reach)
21Must be desir'd forever. So the fire
24Glow'd here a while, lies quench'd now in thy death.
25The Muses' garden, with pedantic weeds
26O'erspread, was purg'd by thee; the lazy seeds
27Of servile imitation thrown away,
28And fresh invention planted; thou didst pay
29The debts of our penurious bankrupt age;
30Licentious thefts, that make poetic rage
31A mimic fury, when our souls must be
33Or Pindar's, not their own; the subtle cheat
34Of sly exchanges, and the juggling feat
35Of two-edg'd words, or whatsoever wrong
37Thou hast redeem'd, and open'd us a mine
38Of rich and pregnant fancy; drawn a line
39Of masculine expression, which had good
41Our superstitious fools admire, and hold
42Their lead more precious than thy burnish'd gold,
43Thou hadst been their exchequer, and no more
44They each in other's dust had rak'd for ore.
45Thou shalt yield no precedence, but of time,
46And the blind fate of language, whose tun'd chime
47More charms the outward sense; yet thou mayst claim
48From so great disadvantage greater fame,
49Since to the awe of thy imperious wit
50Our stubborn language bends, made only fit
51With her tough thick-ribb'd hoops to gird about
52Thy giant fancy, which had prov'd too stout
53For their soft melting phrases. As in time
54They had the start, so did they cull the prime
55Buds of invention many a hundred year,
56And left the rifled fields, besides the fear
57To touch their harvest; yet from those bare lands
58Of what is purely thine, thy only hands,
59(And that thy smallest work) have gleaned more
60  Than all those times and tongues could reap before.
61      But thou art gone, and thy strict laws will be
62Too hard for libertines in poetry;
63They will repeal the goodly exil'd train
64Of gods and goddesses, which in thy just reign
65Were banish'd nobler poems; now with these,
67Shall stuff their lines, and swell the windy page,
68Till verse, refin'd by thee, in this last age
69Turn ballad rhyme, or those old idols be
70Ador'd again, with new apostasy.
71      Oh, pardon me, that break with untun'd verse
72The reverend silence that attends thy hearse,
73Whose awful solemn murmurs were to thee,
74More than these faint lines, a loud elegy,
75That did proclaim in a dumb eloquence
76The death of all the arts; whose influence,
77Grown feeble, in these panting numbers lies,
78Gasping short-winded accents, and so dies.
79So doth the swiftly turning wheel not stand
80In th' instant we withdraw the moving hand,
81But some small time maintain a faint weak course,
83And so, whilst I cast on thy funeral pile
84Thy crown of bays, oh, let it crack awhile,
85And spit disdain, till the devouring flashes
86Suck all the moisture up, then turn to ashes.
88All thy perfections, or weep all our loss;
89Those are too numerous for an elegy,
90And this too great to be express'd by me.
91Though every pen should share a distinct part,
92Yet art thou theme enough to tire all art;
93Let others carve the rest, it shall suffice
94I on thy tomb this epitaph incise:
97      Here lie two flamens, and both those, the best,
98      Apollo's first, at last, the true God's priest.


5] unscissor'd: with uncut hair. Back to Line
7] sand: of the hourglass. Back to Line
14] lectures: here, presumably sermons; usually used of short informal sermons or sermons not delivered in the regular order of church service. Back to Line
22] Delphic quire: i.e., the poets; at Delphi was the shrine of Apollo, god of poetry. Back to Line
23] Prometheus stole fire from heaven for the benefit of mankind. Back to Line
32] Anacreon and Pindar were the two greatest masters of the lofty Greek ode. Back to Line
36] by borrowing Greek and Latin words. Back to Line
40] Orpheus: mythical Greek poet, archetype of the poet. Back to Line
66] The Metamorphoses of Ovid, luxuriant and richly descriptive stories of the classical gods and goddesses, had exercised a strong influence on certain kinds of sixteenth-century poetry. Back to Line
82] impulsive: impelling. Back to Line
87] engross: draw up a full list of. Back to Line
95] flamens: Roman priests. Back to Line
96] referring to Donne's progression from secular to religious poetry. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
3RP 1.220-22.