by John Donne
TO make the doubt clear, that no woman's true,
Was it my fate to prove it strong in you?
Thought I, but one had breathèd purest air ;
And must she needs be false, because she's fair?
Is it your beauty's mark, or of your youth,
Or your perfection, not to study truth?
Or think you heaven is deaf, or hath no eyes?
Or those it hath smile at your perjuries?
Are vows so cheap with women, or the matter
Whereof they're made, that they are writ in water,
And blown away with wind? Or doth their breath
Both hot and cold, at once make life and death?
Who could have thought so many accents sweet
Form'd into words, so may sighs should meet
As from our hearts, so many oaths, and tears
Sprinkled among, all sweeten'd by our fears,
And the divine impression of stolen kisses,
That seal'd the rest, should now prove empty blisses?
Did you draw bonds to forfeit? sign to break?
Or must we read you quite from what you speak,
And find the truth out the wrong way? or must
He first desire you false, would wish you just?
O ! I profane ! though most of women be
This kind of beast, my thoughts shall except thee,
My dearest love ; though froward jealousy
With circumstance might urge thy inconstancy,
Sooner I'll think the sun will cease to cheer
The teeming earth, and that forget to bear ;
Sooner that rivers will run back, or Thames
With ribs of ice in June will bind his streams ;
Or nature, by whose strength the world endures,
Would change her course, before you alter yours.
But O ! that treacherous breast, to whom weak you
Did drift our counsels, and we both may rue,
Having his falsehood found too late ; 'twas he
That made me cast you guilty, and you me ;
Whilst he, black wretch, betray'd each simple word
We spake, unto the cunning of a third.
Cursed may he be, that so our love hath slain,
And wander on the earth, wretched as Cain,
Wretched as he, and not deserve least pity.
In plaguing him, let misery be witty ;
Let all eyes shun him, and he shun each eye,
Till he be noisome as his infamy ;
May he without remorse deny God thrice,
And not be trusted more on his soul's price ;
And, after all self-torment, when he dies,
May wolves tear out his heart, vultures his eyes,
Swine eat his bowels, and his falser tongue
That utter'd all, be to some raven flung ;
And let his carrion corse be a longer feast
To the king's dogs, than any other beast.
Now have I cursed, let us our love revive ;
In me the flame was never more alive.
I could begin again to court and praise,
And in that pleasure lengthen the short days
Of my life's lease ; like painters that do take
Delight, not in made work, but whiles they make.
I could renew those times, when first I saw
Love in your eyes, that gave my tongue the law
To like what you liked ; and at masks and plays
Commend the self-same actors, the same ways ;
Ask how you did, and often with intent
Of being officious, be impertinent ;
All which were such soft pastimes, as in these
Love was as subtly catch'd as a disease.
But being got, it is a treasure sweet,
Which to defend is harder than to get ;
And ought not be profaned, on either part,
For though 'tis got by chance, 'tis kept by art.
[from Chambers' NOTES,
This poem was
included in the collection of verses
called Underwoods, which first appeared in the
folio edition (1641) of Ben Jonson's works. It is No. 58
in Cunningham's edition. I see no reason, however, to
take it from Donne. It appeared in two
and 1635, during
Jonson's life ; the Underwoods is
posthumous, and of no great authority ; and both style
and sentiment are characteristic of Donne. Many points
in the Elegy, for instance, may be paralleled from
Elegy xi., l. 91, sqq., from
Woman's Constancy (p. 5),
and from The Curse (p. 42). It is signed J. D. in
William Drummond's Hawthornden MS. 15. ]
« AJ Note: Compare with the Elegy in Jonson's Underwoods»
Donne, John. Poems of John Donne. vol I.
E. K. Chambers, Ed.
London, Lawrence & Bullen, 1896. 136-139; 241.