Satire IV

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
2Indeed is great, but yet I have been in
4A recreation and scant map of this.
5My mind, neither with pride's itch, nor yet hath been
6Poison'd with love to see, or to be seen.
7I had no suit there, nor new suit to show,
9To'a mass in jest, catch'd, was fain to disburse
10The hundred marks, which is the statute's curse,
11Before he 'scap'd; so'it pleas'd my destiny
12(Guilty of my sin of going) to think me
13As prone to all ill, and of good as forget{\-}
14Full, as proud, as lustful, and as much in debt,
15As vain, as witless, and as false as they
16Which dwell in court, for once going that way.
17Therefore I suffered this; towards me did run
18A thing more strange, than on Nile's slime the sun
19E'er bred, or all which into Noah's ark came;
20A thing which would have pos'd Adam to name;
21Stranger than seven antiquaries' studies,
25If he had liv'd then; and without help dies,
26When next the 'prentices 'gainst strangers rise;
27One, whom the watch, at noon, lets scarce go by;
29"Sir, by your priesthood, tell me what you are."
30His clothes were strange, though coarse; and black, though bare;
31Sleeveless his jerkin was, and it had been
35This thing hath travell'd, and, saith, speaks all tongues,
36And only knoweth what to all states belongs.
37Made of th' accents and best phrase of all these,
38He speaks one language. If strange meats displease,
39Art can deceive, or hunger force my taste,
40But pedants' motley tongue, soldiers' bombast,
41Mountebanks' drug-tongue, nor the terms of law
42Are strong enough preparatives, to draw
43Me to bear this; yet I must be content
44With his tongue, in his tongue, call'd compliment;
45In which he can win widows, and pay scores,
47Out-flatter favourites, or outlie either
49He names me, and comes to me; I whisper, "God!
50How have I sinn'd, that Thy wrath's furious rod,
51This fellow, chooseth me?" He saith, "Sir,
52I love your judgment; whom do you prefer,
56Some Jesuits, and two reverend men
57Of our two Academies, I named. There
58He stopp'd me, and said; "Nay, your apostles were
60Yet a poor gentleman all these may pass
61By travel." Then, as if he would have sold
62His tongue, he prais'd it, and such wonders told,
63That I was fain to say, "If you'had liv'd, sir,
64Time enough to have been interpreter
65To Babel's bricklayers, sure the tower had stood."
66He adds, "If of court life you knew the good,
67You would leave loneness." I said, "Not alone
68My loneness is; but Spartan's fashion,
71No more can princes' courts, though there be few
72Better pictures of vice, teach me virtue."
73He, like to a high-stretch'd lute-string, squeak'd, "O sir,
74'Tis sweet to talk of kings." "At Westminster,"
75Said I, "the man that keeps the abbey tombs,
76And for his price doth with whoever comes
77Of all our Harrys and our Edwards talk,
78From king to king, and all their kin can walk.
79Your ears shall hear nought, but kings; your eyes meet
81He smack'd and cried, "He's base, mechanic, coarse,
82So are all your Englishmen in their discourse.
84I have but one Frenchman, look--he follows me."
85"Certes they are neatly cloth'd. I of this mind am,
88He would not fly; I chaff'd him; but as itch
89Scratch'd into smart, and as blunt iron ground
90Into an edge, hurts worse; so I (fool) found
91Crossing hurt me. To fit my sullenness,
92He to another key his style doth dress,
93And asks, "What news?" I tell him of new plays.
94He takes my hand, and as a still which stays
96As loth to enrich me, so tells many a lie,
98Of trivial household trash, he knows. He knows
99When the Queen frown'd, or smil'd, and he knows what
100A subtle statesman may gather of that;
101He knows who loves; whom; and who by poison
104A licence, old iron, boots, shoes, and egg{\-}
105Shells to transport; shortly boys shall not play
107Toll to some courtier; and wiser than all us,
108He knows what lady is not painted. Thus
109He with home meats tries me. I belch, spew, spit,
110Look pale and sickly, like a patient, yet
111He thrusts on more; and as if he'd undertook
114The Spaniards came, to the loss of Amiens.
115Like a big wife, at sight of loathed meat,
116Ready to travail, so I sigh and sweat
118Either my humour, or his own to fit,
119He, like a privileg'd spy, whom nothing can
120Discredit, libels now 'gainst each great man.
121He names a price for every office paid;
122He saith, our wars thrive ill, because delay'd;
125As the last day; and that great officers
140Toughly and stubbornly I bear this cross; but the' hour
141Of mercy now was come; he tries to bring
142Me to pay a fine to 'scape his torturing,
143And says, "Sir, can you spare me"--I said, "Willingly";
144"Nay, sir, can you spare me a crown"? Thankfully I
145Gave it, as ransom; but as fiddlers, still,
146Though they be paid to be gone, yet needs will
147Thrust one more jig upon you; so did he
148With his long complimental thanks vex me.
149But he is gone, thanks to his needy want,
150And the prerogative of my crown; scant
151His thanks were ended, when I (which did see
152All the court fill'd with more strange things than he)
153Ran from thence with such, or more haste than one
154Who fears more actions doth make from prison.


1] Between 1593 and 1600 Donne wrote five formal satires. The fourth, which was suggested by Horace, Satires, I, ix, was written in 1597. Though the situation is similar, Donne's treatment of it is original, for the manners satirized are English, not Roman.
receive. I.e. the Sacrament. Back to Line
3] as. That. Back to Line
8] Elizabeth's government exacted fines from Roman Catholics for attending mass. Donne had many friends among them, and for a time inclined to their faith. Back to Line
22] Guiana's rarities. A reference to Raleigh's account of the discovery of Guiana, published in 1596. Back to Line
23] strangers. Foreigners were extremely unpopular in London at this time, and often subject to unprovoked assault. Back to Line
24] Dane's massacre. The slaughter of all the Danes in England by order of Ethelred the Unready, November 13, 1002. Back to Line
28] By an act of Parliament passed in 158S, all Jesuits and seminary priests were forbidden the country on pain of death. Donne's companion might have been taken for a priest in disguise. Back to Line
32] ground. The underlying part of the fabric. Back to Line
33] tufftaffaty. A kind of imitation velvet. Back to Line
34] rash. Inferior silk. Back to Line
46] make men speak treason. Play the informer. Back to Line
48] Jovius, Surius. Roman Catholic historians of the 16th century, accused of lying by their opponents. Back to Line
53] seelily. Artlessly. Back to Line
54] Catepine's dictionary. A polyglot dictionary, of which an enlarged edition had been published in 1590. Back to Line
55] Beza. Theodore Beza (1519-1605), French Protestant leader and historian. Back to Line
59] Panurge. A favourite of Pantagruel, who spoke a dozen different languages. See Rabelais, Pantagruel, II, ix. Back to Line
69] last. In some editions "taste". Back to Line
70] Aretine. Pietro Aretino (1492-1557), Italian satirical poet, noted for the foulness of his verse. The reference is to a book of indecent pictures, for which Aretino wrote sonnets. Back to Line
80] King's street. A street running from Charing Cross to the royal palace at Westminster. Back to Line
83] your. Used in a generalizing sense. Cf. Hamlet, "Your worm is your only emperor for diet".
Mine. Donne pretends to misunderstand his companion, and takes "Your" in the ordinary sense; Grierson notes that it appears from one of Donne's letters that he had a French servant. Back to Line
86] grogaram. Grogram (French grosgrain) a coarse cloth, a mixture of silk and wool. Back to Line
87] Not to, sir, I have more. Again Donne deliberately misunderstands his companion's generalizing use of "your". "I have more suits than those made of grogram."
pitch. Height. Back to Line
95] sembrief. Semi-breve, a whole note or the time occupied by it. Back to Line
97] Raphael Holinshead (1525-1578) was the author of Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1578); Edward Hall (1495-1547) wrote a chronicle of the reign of Henry VIII (1542); John Stow (1525-1605) wrote The Chronicles of England (1580). All these chroniclers mingle important and trivial events without discrimination. Back to Line
102] an officer reversion. A promise of appointment to an office when it shall fall vacant. Back to Line
103] The granting of monopolies to courtiers was a crying abuse of the latter years of Elizabeth's reign. Back to Line
106] span-counter, blow-point. Varieties of the game of pitching coins. Back to Line
112] Gallo-Belgicus. An annual register of news, first published at Cologne in 1598. Back to Line
113] since the Spaniards came. Since 1588. to the loss of Amiens. To March, 1597, when Amiens was taken by the Spaniards. It was recovered in September, 1597, by Henry IV. Back to Line
117] Macaron. Buffoon (French mararon; Italian macaroni). The word was re-introduced later in its Italian form in the sense of "a fop". Back to Line
123] entail'd. Made inalienable. Back to Line
124] Perpetuities. Perpetual rights. Offices were promised in reversion to several people, and there was a regular traffic in these promises. Back to Line
126] Dunkirkers. The buccaneers of the Belgian seaport of Dunkirk. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
2RP 1. 278.