John Donne
Spirante Columbâ
Suppositâ pedibus, Revocantur
ad ima vapores.

They apply Pidgeons, to
draw the vapors from
the Head.

WHAT will not kill a man if a vapor will? How great an Elephant, how small a Mouse destroys! To dye by a bullet is the Souldiers dayly bread; but few men dye by haile-shot: A man is more worth, than to bee sold for single money; a life to be valued above a trifle. If this were a violent shaking of the Ayre by Thunder, or by Canon, in that case the Ayre is condensed above the thicknesse of water, of water baked into Ice, almost petrified, almost made stone, and no wonder that kills; but that that which is but a vapor, and a vapor not forced, but breathed, should kill, that our Nourse should overlay us, and Ayre that nourishes us, should destroy us, but that it is a halfe Atheisme to murmure against Nature, who is Gods immediate commissioner, who would not think himselfe miserable to bee put into the hands of Nature, who does not only set him up for a marke for others to shoote at, but delights herselfe to blow him up like a glasse, till shee see him breake, even with her owne breath? nay, if this infectious vapor were sought for, or travail'd to, as Plinie hunted after the vapor of Ætna, and dared and challenged Death, in the forme of a vapor, to doe his worst, and felt the worst, he dyed; or if this vapor were met withall in an ambush, and we surprised with it, out of a long shutt Well, or out of a new opened Myne, who would lament, who would accuse, when we had nothing to accuse, none to lament against but Fortune, who is lesse than a vapor: But when our selves are the Well, that breaths out this exhalation, the Oven that spits out this fiery smoke, the Myne that spues out this suffocating, and strangling dampe, who can ever after this, aggravate his sorrow, by this Circumstance, That it was his Neighbor, his familiar Friend, his Brother, that destroyed him, and destroyed him with a whispering, and a calumniating breath, when wee our selves doe it to our selves by the same meanes, kill our selves with our owne vapors? Or if these occasions of this selfe-destruction, had any contribution from our owne Wils, any assistance from our owne intentions, nay from our own errors, we might divide the rebuke, and chide our selves as much as them. Fevers upon wilful distempers of drinke, and surfets, Consumptions upon intemperances, and licentiousness Madnes upon misplacing, or overbending our naturall faculties, proceed from our selves, and so, as that our selves are in the plot, and wee are not onely passive, but active too, to our owne destruction; But what have I done, either to breed, or to breath these vapors? They tell me it is my Melancholy; Did I infuse, did I drinke in Melancholly into my selfe? It is my thoughtfulnesse; was I not made to thinke? It is my study; doth not my Calling call for that? I have don nothing, wilfully, perversly toward it, yet must suffer in it, die by it; There are too many Examples of men, that have bin their own executioners, and that have made hard shift to bee so; some have alwayes had poyson about them, in a hollow ring upon their finger, and some in their Pen that they used to write with: some have beat out their braines at the wal of their prison, and some have eate the fire out of their chimneys: and one is said to have come neerer our case than so, to have strangled himself, though his hands were bound, by crushing his throat between his knees; But I doe nothing upon my selfe, and yet am mine owne Executioner. And we have heard of death upon small occasions, and by scornefull instruments: a pinne, a combe, a haire, pulled, hath gangred, and killd; But when I have said, a vapour, if I were asked again, what is a vapour, I could not tell, it is so insensible a thing; so neere nothing is that that reduces us to nothing. But extend this vapour, rarifie it; from so narow a roome, as our Naturall bodies, to any Politike body, to a State. That which is fume in us, is in a State, Rumor, and these vapours in us, which wee consider here pestilent and infectious fumes, are in a State infectious rumors, detracting and dishonourable Calumnies, Libels. The Heart in that body is the King; and the Braine, his Councell; and the whole Magistracie, that ties all together, is the Sinewes, which proceed from thence; and the life of all is Honour, and just respect, and due reverence; and therfore, when these vapors, these venimous rumors, are directed against these Noble parts, the whole body suffers. But yet for all their priviledges, they are not priviledged from our misery; that as the vapours most pernitious to us, arise in our owne bodies, so do the most dishonorable rumours, and those that wound a State most, arise at home. What ill ayre, that I could have met in the street, what Channell, what Shambles, what Dunghill, what vault, could have hurt mee so much, as these home-bredd vapours? What Fugitive, what Almes-man of any forraine State, can doe so much harme as a Detracter, a Libeller, a scornefull Jester at home? For, as they that write of poysons, and of creatures naturally disposed to the ruine of Man, do as well mention the Flea, as the Viper, because the Flea, though hee kill none, hee does all the harme hee can; so even these libellous and licentious Jesters utter the venim they have, though sometimes vertue, and alwaies power, be a good Pigeon to draw this vapor from the Head, and from doing any deadly harme there. 

Source :
Donne, John.  The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne.
Charles M. Coffin, Ed. New York: Modern Library, 1952. 432-434.
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