This HTML etext of John Donne's Metempsycosis (1633) was created in April 2007 by Robert Baker for
Luminarium, with valuable typing assistance by Eli Wells. The text is based on the facsimile of Donne's Poems, 1633 at University of Pennsylvania and C. A. Patrides' Complete English Poems of John Donne (Dent, 1985).
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16. Augusti 1601.
M E T E M P S Y C O S I S.
E P I S T L E.
thers at the Porches and entries of their Buildings set their Armes; I,
my picture; if any colours can deliver a minde so plaine, and flat, and through-light
as mine. Naturally at a new Author, I doubt, and sticke, and doe
not say quickly, good. I censure much and taxe; And this liberty costs
mee more than others, by how much my owne things are worse than others.
Yet I would not be so rebellious against my selfe, as not to doe it, since
I love it; nor so unjust to others, to do it sine talione. As long
as I give them as good hold upon mee, they must pardon mee my bitings.
I forbid no reprehender, but him that like the Trent Councell
forbids not bookes, but Authors, damning what ever such a name hath or shall
write. None writes so ill, that he gives not some thing exemplary,
to follow, or flie. Now when I beginne this booke, I have no purpose
to come into any mans debt; how my stocke will hold out I know not; perchance
waste, perchance increase in use; if I doe borrow any thing of Antiquitie,
besides that I make account that I pay it to posterity, with as much and as
good: You shall still finde mee to acknowledge it, and to thanke not him onely
that hath digg’d out treasure for mee, but that hath lighted mee a candle
to the place. All which I bid you remember, (for I will have no such
Readers as I can teach) is, that the Pithagorian doctrine doth not onely
carry one soule from man to man, nor man to beast, but indifferently to plants
also: and therefore you must not grudge to finde the same soule in an Emperour,
in a Post-horse, and in a Mucheron, since no unreadinesse in the soule,
but an indisposition in the organs workes this. And therefore though
this soule could not move when it was a Melon, yet it may remember, and now
tell mee, at what lascivious banquet it was serv’d. And though it could
not speaker, when it was a spider, yet it can remember, and now tell me,
who used it for poison to attaine dignitie. How ever the bodies have
dull’d her other faculties, her memory hath ever been her owne, which makes
me so seriously deliver you by her relation all her passages from her first
making when shee was that apple which Eve eate, to this time when shee is
hee, whose life you shall finde in the end of this booke.
O F T H E S O U L E.
sing of the progresse of a deathlesse soule,
Whom Fate, which God made, but doth not controule,
Plac’d in most shapes; all times before the law
Yoak’d us, and when, and since, in this I sing.
And the great world to his aged evening;
From infant morne, through manly noone I draw.
What the gold Chaldee, or silver Persian saw,
Greeke brasse, or Roman iron, is in this one;
A worke t’outweare Seths pillars, bricke and stone,
And (holy writt excepted) made to yeeld to none.
Thee, eye of heaven, this greate Soule envies not,
By thy male force, is all wee have, begot,
In the first East, thou now beginst to shine,
Suck’st early balme, and Iland spices there,
And wilt anon in thy loose-rein’d careere
At Tagus, Po, Sene, Thames, and Danow dine.
And see at night thy Westerne land of Myne,
Yet hast thou not more nations seene then shee,
That before thee, one day beganne to bee,
And thy fraile light being quench’d, shall long, long out live thee.
Nor, holy Janus, in whose soveraigne boate
The Church, and all the Monarchies did floate:
That swimming Colledge, and free Hospitall
Of all mankinde, that cage and vivarie
Of fowles, and beastes, in whose wombe, Destinie
us, and our latest nephewes did install
(From thence are all deriv’d, that fills this All,)
Did’st thou in that great stewardship embarke
So diverse shapes into that floating parke,
As have beene moved, and inform’d by this heavenly sparke.
Great Destiny the Commissary of God,
That hast mark’d out a path and period
For every thing; who, where wee of-spring tooke,
Our wayes and ends seest at one instant; Thou
Knot of all causes, thou whose changelesse brow
Ne’r smiles nor frownes, O vouch thou safe to looke
And shew my story, in thy eternall booke:
That (if my prayer be fit) I may’understand
So much my selfe, as to know with what hand,
How scant, or liberall this my lifes race is spand.
To my sixe lustres almost now outwore,
Except thy booke owe me so many more,
Except my legend be free from the letts
Of steepe ambition, sleepie povertie,
Spirit-quenching sicknesse, dull captivitie,
Distracting businesse, and from beauties nets,
And all that calls from this, and to others whets,
O let me not launch out, but let me save
Th’expense of braine and spirit; that my grave
His right and due, a whole unwasted man may have.
But if my dayes be long, and good enough,
In vaine this sea shall enlarge, or enrough
It selfe; for I will through the wave, and fome,
And shall, in sad lone wayes a lively spright,
Make my darke heavy Poëm light, and light.
For though through many streights, and lands I roame,
I launch at paradise, and I saile towards home;
The course I there began, shall here be staid,
Sailes hoised there, stroke here, and anchors laid
In Thames, which were at Tygrys, and Euphrates waide.
For the great soule which here amongst us now
Doth dwell, and moves that hand, and tongue, and brow,
Which, as the Moone the sea, moves us; to heare
Whose story, with long patience you will long;
(For ‘tis the crowne, and last straine of my song)
This soule to whom Luther and Mahomet were
Prisons of flesh; this soule which oft did teare,
And mend the wracks of th’Empire, and late Rome,
And liv’d when every great change did come,
Had first in paradise, a low, but fatall roome.
Yet no low roome, nor then the greatest, lesse,
If (as devout and sharpe men fitly guesse)
That Crosse, our joy, and griefe, where nailes did tye
That All, which alwayes was all, every where,
Which could not sinne, and yet all sinnes did beare;
Which could not die, yet could not chuse but die;
Stood in the selfe same roome in Calvarie,
Where first grew the forbidden learned tree,
For on that tree hung in security
This Soule, made by the Makers will from pulling free.
Prince of the orchard, faire as dawning morne,
Fenc’d with the law, and ripe as soone as borne
That apple grew, which this Soule did enlive
Till the then climing serpent, that now creeps
For that offence, for which all mankinde weepes,
Tooke it, and t’her whom the first man did wive
(Whom and her race, only forbiddings drive)
He gave it, she, t’her husband, both did eate;
So perished the eaters, and the meate:
And wee (for treason taints the blood) thence die and sweat.
Man all at once was there by woman slaine,
And one by one we’are here slaine o’er againe
By them. The mother poison’d the well-head,
The daughters here corrupt us, Rivolets,
No smalnesse scapes, no greatnesse breaks their nets,
She thrust us out, and by them we are led
Astray, from turning, to whence we are fled.
Were prisoners Judges, ‘twould seeme rigorous,
Shee sinn’d, we beare; part of our paine is, thus
To love them, whose fault to this painfull love yoak’d us.
So fast in us doth this corruption grow,
That now wee dare aske why wee should be so.
Would God (disputes the curious Rebell) make
A law, and would not have it kept? Or can
His creatures will, crosse his? Of every man
For one, will God (and be just) vengeance take?
Who sinn’d? t’was not forbidden to the snake
Nor her, who was not then made; nor is’t writ
That Adam cropt, or knew the apple; yet
The worme and she, and he, and wee endure for it.
But snatch mee heavenly Spirit from this vaine
Reckoning their vanities, lesse is their gaine
Then hazard still, to meditate on ill,
Though with good minde, their reasons, like those toyes
Of glassie bubbles, which the gamesome boyes
Stretch to so nice a thinnes through a quill
That they themselves breake, doe themselves spill,
Arguing is heretiques game, and Exercise
As wrastlers, perfects them; Not liberties
Of speech, but silence; hands, not tongues, end heresies.
Just in that instant when the serpents gripe,
Broke the slight veines, and tender the conduit-pipe,
Through which this soule from the trees root did draw
Life, and growth to this apple, fled away
This loose soule, old, one and another day.
As lightning, which one scarce dares say, he saw,
‘Tis so soone gone, (and better proofe the law
Of sense, then faith requires) swiftly she flew
To a darke and foggie Plot; Her, her fates threw
There through th’earths pores, and in a Plant hous’d her anew.
The plant thus abled, to it selfe did force
A place, where no place was; by natures course
As aire from water, water fleets away
From thicker bodies, by this root thronged so
His spungie confines gave him place to grow,
Just as in our streets, when the people stay
To see the Prince, and so fill up the way
That weesels scarce could passe, when she comes nere
They throng and cleave up, and a passage cleare,
As if, for that time, their round bodies flatned were.
His right arme he thrust out towards the East,
West-ward his left; th’ends did themselves digest
Into ten lesser strings, these fingers were:
And as a slumberer stretching on his bed,
This way he this, and that way scattered
His other legge, which feet with toes upbeare;
Grew on his middle parts, the first day, haire,
To show, that in loves businesse hee should still
A dealer bee, and be us’d well, or ill:
His apples kindle, his leaves, force of conception kill.
A mouth, but dumbe, he hath; blinde eyes, deafe eares,
And to his shoulders dangle subtile haires;
A young Colussus there hee stands upright,
And as that ground by him were conquered
A leafe garland weares he on his head
Enchas’d with little fruits, so red and bright
That for them you would call your Loves lips white;
So, of a lone unhaunted place possest,
Did this soules second Inne, built by the guest
This living buried man, this quiet mandrake, rest.
No lustfull woman came this plant to grieve,
But ‘twas because there was none yet but Eve:
And she (with other purpose) kill’d it quite;
Her sinne had now brought in infirmities,
And so her cradled child, the moist red eyes
Had never shut, nor slept since it saw light,
Poppie she knew, she knew the mandrakes might;
And tore up both, and so coold her childs blood;
Unvirtuous weeds might long unvex’d have stood;
But hee’s short liv’d, that with his death can doe most good.
To an unfettered soules quick nimble haste
Are falling stars, and hearts thoughts, but slow pac’d:
Thinner than burnt aire flies this soule, and she
Whom foure new coming, and foure parting Suns
Had found, and left the Mandrakes tenant, runnes
Thoughtlesse of change, when her firme destiny
Confin’d, and enjayld her, that seem’d so free,
Into a smallblew shell, the which a poore
Warme bird orespread, and sat still evermore,
Till her inclos’d child kickt, and pick’t it selfe a dore.
Outcrept a sparrow, this soules moving Inne,
On whose raw armes stiffe feathers now begin,
As childrens teeth through gummes, to breake with paine,
His flesh is jelly yet, and his bones threds,
All a new downy mantle overspreads,
A mouth he opes, which would as much containe
As his late house, and the first houre speaks plaine,
And chirps alowd for meat. Meat fit for men
His father steales for him, and so feeds then
One, that within a moneth, will beate him from his hen.
In this worlds youth wise nature did make haste,
Things ripened sooner, and did longer last;
Already this hot cocke, in bush and tree
In field and tent oreflutters his next hen,
He asks her not, who did so last, nor when,
Nor if his sister, or his neece shee be;
Nor doth she pule for his inconstancie
If in her sight he change, nor doth refuse
The next that calls; both liberty doe use,
Where store is of both kindes, both kindes may freely chuse.
Men, till they tooke laws which made freedome lesse,
Their daughters, and their sisters did ingress;
Till now unlawfull, therefore ill, ‘twas not.
So jolly, that it can move, this soule is,
The body so free of his kindnesses,
That selfe preserving it hath now forgot,
And slackneth so the soules, and bodies knot,
Which temperance streightens; freely on his she friends
He blood, and spirit, pith, and marrow spends,
Ill steward of himself, himselfe in three years ends.
Else might he long have liv’d; man did not know
Of gummie blood, which doth in holly grow,
How to make bird-lime, nor how to deceive
With faind calls, hid nets, or enwrapping snare
The free inhabitants of the Plyant aire.
Man to beget, and woman to conceive
Askt not of rootes, nor of cock-sparrowes, leave:
Yet chuseth hee, though none of these he feares,
Pleasantly three, than streightned twenty yeares
To live, and to encrease his race, himselfe outweares.
This cole with overblowing quench’d and dead,
The Soule from her too active organs fled
T’a brooke. A female fishes sandie Roe
With the males jelly, newly lev’ned was,
For they had intertouch’d as they did passe,
And one of those small bodies, fitted so,
This soule inform’d, and abled it to rowe
It selfe with finnie oares, which she did fit:
Her scales seem’d yet of parchment, and as yet
Perchance a fish, but by no name you could call it.
When goodly, like a ship in her full trim,
A swan, so white that you may unto him
Compare all whitenesse, but himselfe to none,
Glided along, and as he glided watch’d,
And with his arched necke this poore fish catch’d.
It mov’d with state, as if to looke upon
Low things it scorn’d, and yet before that one
Could thinke he sought it, he had swallowed cleare
This, and much such, and unblam’d devour’d there
All, but who too swift, too great, or well arm’d were.
Now swome a prison in a prison put,
And now this Soule in double walls was shut,
Till melted with the Swans digestive fire,
She left her house the fish, and vapour’d forth;
Fate not affording bodies of more worth
For her as yet, bids her againe retire
T’another fish, to any new desire
Made a new prey; For, he that can to none
Resistance make, nor complaint, sure is gone.
Weaknesse invites, but silence feasts oppression.
Pace with her native streame, this fish doth keepe,
And journeyes with her, towards the glassie deepe,
But oft retarded, once with a hidden net
Though with greate windowes, for when Need first taught
These tricks to catch food, then they were not wrought
As now, with curious greedinesse to let
None scape, but few, and fit for use, to get,
As, in this trap a ravenous pike was tane,
Who, though himselfe distrest, would faine have slain
This wretch; So hardly are ill habits left again.
Here by her smallnesse shee two deaths orepast,
Once innocence scap’d, and left the oppressor fast.
The net through-swome, she keepes the liquid path,
And whether she leape up sometimes to breath
And suck in aire, or find it underneath,
Or working parts like mills or limbecks hath
To make the water thinne and airelike, faith
Cares not; but safe the Place she’s come unto
Where fresh, with salt waves meet, and what to doe
She knowes not, but betweene both makes a boord or two.
So farre from hiding her guests, water is,
That she showes them in bigger quantities
Then they are. Thus doubtfull of her way,
For game and not for hunger a sea Pie
Spied through this traitorous spectacle, from high,
The seely fish where it disputing lay,
And t’end her doubts and her, beares her away,
Exhalted she’is, but to the exhalters good,
As are by great ones, men which lowly stood.
It’s rais’d, to be the Raisers instrument and food.
Is any kinde subject to rape like fish?
Ill unto man, they neither doe, nor wish:
Fishers they kill not, nor with noise awake,
They doe not hunt, nor strive to make a prey
Of beasts, nor their yong sonnes to beare away;
Foules they pursue not, nor do undertake
To spoile the nests industrious birds do make;
Yet them all these unkinde kinds feed upon,
To kill them is an occupation,
And lawes make fasts, and lents for their destruction.
A sudden stiffe land-winde in that selfe houre
To sea-ward forc’d this bird, that did devour
The fish; he cares not, for with ease he flies,
Fat gluttonies best orator: at last
So long hee hath flowen, and hath flowen so fast
That leagues o’er-past at sea, now tir’d hee lyes,
And with his prey, that till then languisht, dies,
The soules no longer foes, two wayes did erre,
The fish I follow, and keepe no calender
Of the other; he lives yet in some great officer.
Into an embrion fish, our Soule is throwne,
And in due time throwne out againe, and growne
To such vastnesse, as if unmanacled
From Greece, Morea were, and that by some
Earthquake unrooted, loose Morea swome,
Or seas from Africks body had severed
And torne the hopefull Promontories head,
This fish would seeme these, and, when all hopes faile,
A great ship overset, or without saile
Hulling, might (when this was a whelp) be like this whale.
At every stroake his brazen finnes do take,
More circles in the broken sea they make
Then cannons voices, when the aire they teare:
His ribs are pillars, and his high arch’d roofe
Of barke that blunts best steele, is thunder-proofe:
Swimme in him swallowed Dolphins, without feare,
And feele no sides, as if his vast wombe were
Some inland sea, and ever as hee went
He spouted rivers up, as if he ment
To joyne our seas, with seas above the firmament.
He hunts not fish, but as an officer,
Stayes in his court, at his owne net, and there
All suitors of all sorts themselves enthrall;
So on his backe lyes this whale wantoning,
And in his gulfe-like throat, sucks every thing
That passeth neare. Fish chaseth fish, and all,
Flyer and follower, in this whirlepoole fall;
O might not states of more equality
Consist? and is it of necessity
That thousand guiltlesse smals, to make one great, must die?
Now drinkes he up seas, and he eates up flocks,
He justles Ilands, and he shakes firme rockes.
Now in a roomefull house this Soule doth float,
And like a Prince she sends her faculties
To all her limbes, distant as Provinces.
The Sunne hath twenty times both crab and goate
Parched, since first lanch’d forth this living boate,
‘Tis greatest now, and to destruction
Nearest; There’s no pause at perfection,
Greatenesse a period hath, but hath no station.
Two little fishes whom hee never harm’d,
Nor fed on their kinde, two not thoroughly arm’d
With hope that they could kill him, nor could doe
Good to themselves by his death (they did not eate
His flesh, nor suck those oyles, which thence outstreat)
Conspir’d against him, and it might undoe
The plot of all, that the plotters were two,
But that they fishes were, and could not speake.
How shall a Tyran wise strong projects breake,
If wreches can on them the common anger wreake?
The flaile-finn’d Thresher, and steel-beak’d Sword-fish
Onely attempt to doe, what all doe wish.
The Thresher backs him, and to beate begins;
The sluggard Whale yeelds to oppression,
And t’hide himselfe from shame and danger, downe
Begins to sinke; the Swordfish upward spins,
And gores him with his beake; his staffe-like finnes,
So well the one, his sword the other plyes,
That now a scoffe, and prey, this tyran dyes,
And (his owne dole) feeds with himselfe all companies.
Who will revenge his death? or who will call
Those to account, that thought, and wrought his fall?
The heires of slaine kings, wee see are often so
Transported with the joy of what they get,
That they, revenge and obsequies forget,
Nor will against such men the people goe,
Because h’is now dead, to whom they should show
Love in that act. Some kings by vice being growne
So needy of subjects love, that of their own
They thinke they lose, if love be to the dead Prince showne.
This Soule, now free from prison, and passion,
Hath yet a little indignation
That so small hammers should so soone downe beat
So great a castle. And having for her house
Got the streight cloyster of a wreched mouse
(As basest men that have not what to eate,
Nor enjoy ought, doe farre more hate the great
Then they, who good repos’d estates possesse)
This Soule, late taught that great things might by lesse
Be slaine, to gallant mischiefe doth herself addresse.
Natures great master-peece, an Elephant,
The onely harmlesse great thing; the giant
Of beasts; who thought, no more had gone, to make one wise
But to be just, and thankfull, loth to offend,
(Yet nature hath given him no knees to bend)
Himselfe he up-props, on himselfe relies,
And foe to none, suspects no enemies,
Still sleeping stood; vex’t not his fantasie
Blacke dreames, like and unbent bow, carelessly
His sinewy Proboscis did remisly lie.
In which as in a gallery this mouse
Walk’d, and surveid the roomes of this vast house,
And to the braine, the soules bedchamber, went,
And gnaw’d the life cords there; Like a whole towne
Cleane undermin’d, the slaine beast tumbled downe,
With him the murtherer dies whom envy sent
To kill, not scape, (for, only hee that ment
To die, did ever kill a man of better roome,)
And thus he made his foe, his prey, and tombe:
Who cares not to turn back, may any whither come.
Next, hous’d this Soule a Wolves yet unborne whelp,
Till the best midwife, Nature, gave it helpe,
To issue. It could kill, as soon as goe:
Abel, as white, and milde as his sheepe were,
(Who in that trade, of Church, and kingdomes, there
Was the first type) was still infested soe,
With this wolfe, that it bred his losse and woe;
And yet his bitch, his sentinell attends
The flocke so neere, so well warnes and defends,
That the wolfe, (hopelesse else) to corrupt her, intends.
Hee tooke a course, which since, successfully,
Great men have often taken, to espie
The counsels, or to breake the plots of foes,
To Abels tent he stealeth in the darke,
On whose skirts the bitch slept; ere she could barke,
Attach’d her with streight gripes, yet hee call’d those,
Embracements of love; to loves work he goes,
Where deeds move more than words; nor doth she show,
Nor much resist, nor needs hee streighten so
His prey, for, were shee loose, she would nor barke, nor goe.
Hee hath engag’d her; his, she wholy bides;
Who not her owne, none others secrets hides,
If to the flocke he come, and Abell there,
She faines hoarse barkings, but she biteth not,
Her faith is quite, but not her love forgot.
At last a trap, of which some every where
Abell had plac’d, ends all his losse, and feare,
By the Wolves death; and now just time it was
That a quick soule should give life to that masse
Of blood in Abels bitch, and thither this did passe.
Some have their wives, their sisters some begot,
But in the lives of Emperours you shall not
Reade of a lust the which may equall this;
This wolfe begot himselfe, and finished
What he began alive, when hee was dead,
Sonne to himselfe, and father too, hee is
A ridling lust, for which Schoolemen would misse
A proper name. The whelpe of both these lay
In Abels tent, and with soft Moaba,
His sister, being yong, it us’d to sport and play.
Hee soone for her too harsh, and churlish grew,
And Abell (the dam dead) would use this new
For the field, being of two kindes thus made,
He, as his dam, from sheepe drove wolves away,
And as his Sire, he made them his ownes prey.
Five years he liv’d, and cosened with his trade,
Then hopeless that his faults were hid, betraid
Himselfe by flight, and by all followed,
From dogges, a wolfe; from wolves, a dogge he fled;
And, like a spie to both sides false, he perished.
It quickened next a toyfull Ape, and so
Gamesome it was, that it might freely goe
From tent to tent, and with the children play,
His organs now so like theirs hee doth finde,
That why he cannot laugh, and speake his minde,
He wonders. Much with all, most he doth stay
With Adams fift daughter Siphatecia
Doth gaze on her, and, where she passeth, passe,
Gathers her fruits, and tumbles on the grasse,
And wisest of that kinde, the first true lover was.
He was the first that more desir’d to have
One then another; first that ere did crave
Love by mute signes, and had no power to speake;
First that could make love faces, or could doe
The valters sombersalts, or us’d to wooe
With hoiting gambolls, his owne bones to breake
To make his mistresse merry; or to wreake
Her anger on himselfe. Sinnes against kinde
They easily doe, that can let feed their minde
With outward beauty, beauty they in boyes and beasts do find.
By this misled, too low things men have prov’d,
And too high; beasts and angels have beene lov’d;
This Ape, though else through-vaine, in this was wise,
He reach’d at things too high, but open way
There was, and he knew not she would say nay;
His toyes prevaile not, likelier meanes he tries,
He gazeth on her face with teare-shot eyes,
And up lifts subtly with his russet pawe
Her kidskinne apron without feare or awe
Of Nature; Nature hath no gaole, though she hath law.
First she was silly and knew not what he ment,
That vertue, by his touches, chaft and spent,
Succeeds an itchie warmth, that melts her quite,
She knew not first, now cares not what he doth,
And willing halfe and more, more then halfe loth,
She neither puls nor pushes, but outright
Now cries, and now repents; when Tethlemite
Her brother, enterd, and a great stone threw
After the Ape, who thus prevented, flew,
This house thus batter’d downe, the Soule possest a new.
And whether by this change she lose or win,
She comes out next, where the Ape would have gone in,
Like Chimiques equall fires, her temperate wombe
Had stew’d and form’d it: and part did become
A spungie liver, that did richly allow,
Like a free conduit, on a high hils brow,
Life keeping moisture unto every part;
Part hardned it selfe to a thicker heart,
Whose busie furnaces lifes spirits do impart.
Another part became the well of sense,
The tender well-arm’d feeling braine, from whence,
Those sinowie strings which do our bodies tie,
Are raveld out; and fast there by one end,
Did this Soule limbes, these limbes a soule attend;
And now they joyn’d; keeping some quality
Of every past shape, she knew treachery,
Rapine, deceit, and lust, and ills enow
To be a woman. Themech she is now,
Sister and wife to Caine, Caine that first did plow.
Who ere thou beest that read’st this sullen Writ,
Which just so much courts thee, as thou dost it,
Let me arrest thy thoughts; wonder with mee,
Why plowing, building, ruling and the rest,
Or most of those arts, whence our lives are blest,
By cursed Cains race invented be,
And blest Seth vext us with Astronomie,
Ther’s nothing simply good, nor ill alone,
Of every quality comparison,
The onely measure is, and judge, opinion.