1633 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Donne

Izaak Walton, "An Elegie upon Dr. Donne" Donne, Poems (1633) 382-84.



Is Donne, great Donne deceas'd? then England say
Thou hast lost a man where language chose to stay
And shew it's gracefull power. I would not praise
That and his vast wit (which in these vaine dayes
Make many proud) but as they serv'd to unlock
That Cabinet, his minde: where such a stock
Of knowledge was repos'd, as all lament
(Or should) this generall cause of discontent.

And I rejoyce I am not so severe,
But (as I write a line) to weepe a teare
For his decease; Such sad extremities
May make such men as I write Elegies.

And wonder not; for, when a generall losse
Falls on a nation, and they slight the crosse,
God hath rais'd Prophets to awaken them
From stupifaction; witnesse my milde pen,
Not us'd to upbraid the world, though now it must
Freely and boldly, for, the cause is just.

Dull age, Oh I would not spare thee, but th' art worse,
Thou art not onely dull, but hast a curse
Of black ingratitude; if not, couldst thou
Part with miraculous Donne, and make no vow
For thee and thine, successively to pay
A sad remembrance to his dying day?

Did his youth scatter Poetrie, wherein
Was all Philosophie? Was every sinne,
Character'd in his Satyres? made so foule
That some have fear'd their shapes, and kept their soule
Freer by reading verse? Did he give dayes
Past marble monuments, to those, whose praise
He would perpetuate? Did hee (I feare
The dull will doubt:) these at his twentieth yeare?

But, more matur'd: Did his full soule conceive,
And in harmonious-holy-numbers weave
A Crowne of sacred sonnets, fit to adorne
A dying Martyrs brow: or, to be worne
On that blest head of Mary Magdalen:
After she wip'd Christs feet, but not till then?
Did hee (fit for such penitents as shee
And hee to use) leave us a Litany?
Which all devout men love, and sure, it shall,
As times grow better, grow more classicall.
Did he write Hymnes, for piety and wit
Equall to those great grave Prudentius writ?
Spake he all Languages? knew he all Lawes?
The ground and use of Physicke; but because
'Twas mercenary, wav'd it? Went to see
That blessed place of Christs nativity?
Did he returne and preach him? preach him so
As none but hee coud do? his hearers know
(Such as were blest to heare him) this is truth.
Did he confirme thy aged? convert thy youth?
Did he these wonders? And is this deare losse
Mourn'd by so few? (few for so great a crosse.)

But sure the silent are ambitious all
To be Close Mourners at his Funerall;
If not; In common pitty they forbare
By repetitions to renew our care;
Or, knowing, griefe conceiv'd, conceal'd, consumes
Man irreparably; (as poyson'd fumes
Do waste the braine) make silence a safe way
To inlarge the Soule from these walls, mud and clay,
(Materialls of this body) to remaine
With Donne in heaven, where no promiscuous paine
Lessens the joy wee have, for, with him, all
Are satisfyed with joyes essentiall.

My thoughts, Dwell on this Joy, and do not call
Griefe backe, by thinking of his Funerall;
Forget he lov'd mee; Waste not my sad yeares;
(Which haste to Davids seventy) fill'd with feares
And sorrow for his death;) Forget his parts,
Which finde a living grave in good mens hearts;
And, (for, my first is daily paid for sinne)
Forget to pay my second sigh for him:
Forget his powerfull preaching; and forget
I am his Convert. Oh my frailtie! let
My flesh be no more heard, it will obtrude
This lethargie: so should my gratitude,
My vowes of gratitude should be so broke;
Which can no more be, then Donnes vertues spoke
By any but himselfe; for which cause, I
Write no Encomium, but an Elegie.