The Poems of John Donne Volume I
Category: Verse
Genres: Epic poem
Level 10.22 10:58 h
John Donne was an English poet, scholar, soldier and secretary born into a recusant family, who later became a cleric in the Church of England. He is considered the preeminent representative of the metaphysical poets. His poetical works are noted for their metaphorical and sensual style and include sonnets, love poems, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs, and satires.

The Poems of John Donne

John Donne

Vol. I
The Text of the Poems with Appendixes

With Introductions & Commentary by Herbert J. C. Grierson M.A.

John DonneJohn Donne


The present edition of Donne’s poems grew out of my work as a teacher. In the spring of 1907, just after I had published a small volume on the literature of the early seventeenth century, I was lecturing to a class of Honours students on the ‘Metaphysical poets’. They found Donne difficult alike to understand and to appreciate, and accordingly I undertook to read with them a selection from his poems with a view to elucidating difficult passages and illustrating the character of his ‘metaphysics’, the Scholastic and scientific doctrines which underlie his conceits. The only editions which we had at our disposal were the modern editions of Donne’s poems by Grosart and Chambers, but I did not anticipate that this would present any obstacle to the task I had undertaken. About the same time the Master of Peterhouse asked me to undertake the chapter on Donne, as poet and prose-artist, for the Cambridge History of English Literature. The result was that though I had long been interested in Donne, and had given, while at work on the poetry of the seventeenth century, much thought to his poetry as a centre of interest and influence, I began to make a more minute study of the text of his poems than I had yet attempted.

The first result of this study was the discovery that there were several passages in the poems, as printed in Mr. Chambers’ edition, of which I could give no satisfactory explanation to my class. At the close of the session I went to Oxford and began in the Bodleian a rapid collation of the text of that edition with the older copies, especially of 1633. The conclusion to which I came was that, excellent in many ways as that edition is, the editor had too often abandoned the reading of 1633 for the sometimes more obvious but generally weaker and often erroneous emendations of the later editions. As he records the variants this had become clear in some cases already, but an examination of the older editions brought out another fact,—that by modernizing the punctuation, while preserving no record of the changes made, the editor had corrupted some passages in such a manner as to make it impossible for a student, unprovided with all the old editions, to recover the original and sometimes quite correct reading, or to trace the error to its fountainhead.

My first proposal to the Delegates of the Clarendon Press was that I should attempt an edition of Donne’s poems resting on a collation of the printed texts; that for all poems which it contains the edition of 1633 should be accepted as the authority, to be departed from only when the error seemed to be obvious and certain, and that all such changes, however minute, should be recorded in the notes. In the case of poems not contained in the edition of 1633, the first edition (whether 1635, 1649, 1650, or 1669) was to be the authority and to be treated in the same fashion. Such an edition, it was hoped, might be ready in a year. I had finished my first collation of the editions when a copy of the Grolier Club edition came into my hands, and I included it in the number of those which I compared throughout with the originals.

While the results of this collation confirmed me in the opinion I had formed as to the superiority of the edition of 1633 to all its successors, it showed also that that edition was certainly not faultless, and that the text of those poems which were issued only in the later editions was in general very carelessly edited and corrupt, especially of those poems which were added for the first time in 1669. This raised the question, what use was to be made of the manuscript copies of the poems in correcting the errors of the edition? Grosart had based his whole text on one or two manuscripts in preference to the editions. Mr. Chambers, while wisely refusing to do this, and adopting the editions as the basis of his text, had made frequent reference to the manuscripts and adopted corrections from them. Professor Norton made no use of the manuscripts in preparing the text of his edition, but he added in an Appendix an account of one of these which had come into his hands, and later he described some more and showed clearly that he believed corrections were to be obtained from this source. Accordingly I resolved to examine tentatively those which were accessible in the British Museum, especially the transcript of three of the Satyres in Harleian MS. 5110.

A short examination of the manuscripts convinced me that it would be very unsafe to base a text on any single extant manuscript, or even to make an eclectic use of a few of them, taking, now from one, now from another, what seemed a probable emendation. On the other hand it became clear that if as wide a collation as possible of extant manuscripts were made one would be able to establish in many cases what was, whether right or wrong, the traditional reading before any printed edition appeared.

A few experiments further showed that one, and a very important, result of this collation would be to confirm the trustworthiness of 1633, to show that in places where modern editors had preferred the reading of some of the later editions, generally 1635 or 1669, the text of 1633 was not only intrinsically superior but had the support of tradition, i.e. of the majority of the manuscripts. If this were the case, then it was also possible that the traditional, manuscript text might afford corrections when 1633 had fallen into error. At the same time a very cursory examination of the manuscripts was sufficient to show that many of them afforded an infinitely more correct and intelligible text of those poems which were not published in 1633 than that contained in the printed editions.

Another possible result of a wide collation of the manuscripts soon suggested itself, and that was the settlement of the canon of Donne’s poems. One or two of the poems contained in the old editions had already been rejected by modern editors, and some of these on the strength of manuscript ascriptions. But on the one hand, no systematic attempt had been made to sift the poems, and on the other, experience has shown that nothing is more unsafe than to trust to the ascriptions of individual, unauthenticated manuscripts. Here again it seemed to the present editor that if any definite conclusion was to be obtained it must be by as wide a survey as possible, by the accumulation of evidence. No such conclusion might be attainable, but it was only thus that it could be sought.

The outcome of the investigation thus instituted has been fully discussed in the article on the Text and Canon of Donne’s Poems in the second volume, and I shall not attempt to summarize it here. But it may be convenient for the student to have a quite brief statement of what it is that the notes in this volume profess to set forth.

Their first aim is to give a complete account of the variant readings of the original editions of 1633, 1635, 1639, 1649-50-54 (the text in these three is identical), and 1669. This was the aim of the edition as originally planned, and though my opinion of the value of many of the variants of the later editions has undergone considerable abatement since I was able to study them in the light afforded by the manuscripts, I have endeavoured to complete my original scheme; and I trust it may be found that nothing more important has been overlooked than an occasional misprint in the later editions. But I know from the experience of examining the work of my precursors, and of revising my own work, that absolute correctness is almost unattainable. It has been an advantage to me in this part of the work to come after Mr. Chambers and the Grolier Club editors, but neither of these editions records changes of punctuation.

The second purpose of the notes is to set forth the evidence of the manuscripts. I have not attempted to give anything like a full account of the variant readings of these, but have recorded so much as is sufficient for four different purposes.

(1) To vindicate the text of 1633. I have not thought it necessary to detail the evidence in cases where no one has disputed the 1633 reading. If the note simply records the readings of the editions it may be assumed that the manuscript evidence, so far as it is explicit (the manuscripts frequently abound in absurd errors), is on the side of 1633. In other cases, when there is something to be said for the text of the later editions, and especially when modern editors have preferred the later reading (though I have not always called attention to this) I have set forth the evidence in some detail. At times I have mentioned each manuscript, at others simply all the MSS., occasionally just MSS. This last means generally that all the positive evidence before me was in favour of the reading, but that my collations were silent as to some of the manuscripts. My collators, whether myself or those who worked for me, used Mr. Chambers’ edition because of its numbered lines. Now if Mr. Chambers had already adopted a 1635 or later reading the tendency of the collator—especially at first, before the importance of certain readings had become obvious—was to pass over the agreement of the manuscript with this later reading in silence. In all important cases I have verified the reading by repeated reference to the manuscripts, but in some of smaller importance I have been content to record the general trend of the evidence. I have tried to cite no manuscript unless I had positive evidence as to its reading.

(2) The second use which I have made of the manuscript evidence is to justify my occasional departures from the text of the editions, whether 1633 (and these are the departures which call for most justification) or whatever later edition was the first to contain the poem. In every such case the reader should see at a glance what was the reading of the first edition, and on what authority it has been altered. My aim has been a true text (so far as that was attainable), not a reprint; but I have endeavoured to put the reader in exactly the same position as I was myself at each stage in the construction of that text. If I have erred, he can (in a favourite phrase of Donne’s) ‘control’ me. This applies to spelling and punctuation as well as to the words themselves. But two warnings are necessary. When I note a reading as found in a number of editions, e.g. 1635 to 1654 (1635-54), or in all the editions (1633-69), it must be understood that the spelling is not always the same throughout. I have generally noted any variation in the use of capitals, but not always. The spelling and punctuation of each poem is that of the first edition in which it was published, or of the manuscript from which I have printed, all changes being recorded. Again, if, in a case where the words and not the punctuation is the matter in question, I cite the reading of an edition or some editions followed by a list of agreeing manuscripts, it will be understood that any punctuation given is that of the editions. If a list of manuscripts only is given, the punctuation, if recorded, is that of one or two of the best of these.

In cases where punctuation is the matter in question the issue lies between the various editions and my own sense of what it ought to be. Wherever it is not otherwise indicated the punctuation of a poem is that of the first edition in which it appeared or of the manuscript from which I have printed it. I have not recorded every variant of the punctuation of later editions, but all that affect the sense while at the same time not manifestly absurd. The punctuation of the manuscripts is in general negligible, but of a few manuscripts it is good, and I have occasionally cited these in support of my own view as to what the punctuation should be.

(3) A third purpose served by my citation of the manuscripts is to show clearly that there are more versions than one of some poems. A study of the notes to the Satyres, The Flea, The Curse, Elegy XI: The Bracelet, will make this clear.

(4) A fourth, subordinate and occasional, purpose of my citation of the manuscripts is to show how Donne’s poems were understood or misunderstood by the copyists. Occasionally a reading which is probably erroneous throws light upon a difficult passage. The version of P at p. 34, ll. 18-19, elucidates a difficult stanza. The reading of Q in The Storme, l. 38,
Yea, and the Sunne
for the usual
I, and the Sunne
suggests, what is probably correct but had not been suspected by any editor, that ‘I’ here, as often, is not the pronoun, but ‘Aye’.

The order of the poems is that of the editions of 1635 onwards with some modifications explained in the Introduction. In Appendix B I have placed all those poems which were printed as Donne’s in the old editions (1633 to 1669), except Basse’s Epitaph on Shakespeare, and a few found in manuscripts connected with the editions, or assigned to Donne by competent critics, all of which I believe to be by other authors. The text of these has been as carefully revised as that of the undoubted poems. In Appendix C I have placed a miscellaneous collection of poems loosely connected with Donne’s name, and illustrating the work of some of his fellow-wits, or the trend of his influence in the occasional poetry of the seventeenth century.

The work of settling the text, correcting the canon, and preparing the Commentary has been done by myself. It was difficult to consult others who had not before them all the complex mass of evidence which I had accumulated. On some five or six places in the text, however, where final question to be decided was the intrinsic merits of the readings offered by the editions and by the manuscripts, or the advisability of a bolder emendation, I have had the advantage of comparing my opinion with that of Sir James Murray, Sir Walter Raleigh, Dr. Henry Bradley, Mr. W. A. Craigie, Mr. J. C. Smith, or Mr. R. W. Chapman.

For such accuracy as I have secured in reproducing the old editions, in the text and in the notes, I owe much to the help of three friends, Mr. Charles Forbes, of the Post Office, Aberdeen, who transcribed the greater portion of my manuscript; Professor John Purves, of University College, Pretoria, who during a visit to this country read a large section of my proofs, comparing them with the editions in the British Museum; and especially to my assistant, Mr. Frederick Rose, M.A., now Douglas Jerrold Scholar, Christ Church, Oxford, who has revised my proofs throughout with minute care.

I am indebted to many sources for the loan of necessary material. In the first place I must acknowledge my debt to the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland for allowing me a grant of £40 in 1908-9, and of £30 in 1909-10, for the collation of manuscripts. Without this it would have been impossible for me to collate, or have collated for me, the widely scattered manuscripts in London, Petworth, Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, and Boston. Some of my expenses in this connexion have been met by the Delegates of the Clarendon Press, who have also been very generous in the purchase of necessary books, such as editions of the Poems and the Sermons. At the outset of my work the Governing Body of Christ Church, Oxford, lent me the copy of the edition of 1633 (originally the possession of Sir John Vaughan (1603-1674) Chief Justice of the Common Pleas) on which the present edition is based, and also their copies of the editions of 1639, 1650, and 1654. At the same time Sir Walter Raleigh lent me his copy of the edition of 1669. At an early stage of my work Captain C. Shirley Harris, of 90 Woodstock Road, Oxford, communicated with me about Donne’s use of the word ‘Mucheron’, and he was kind enough to lend me both his manuscript, P, and the transcript which he had caused to be made. By the kindness of Lord Ellesmere I was permitted to collate his unique copy of the 1611 edition of the Anatomy of the World and Funerall Elegie. While I was doing so, Mr. Strachan Holme, the Librarian, drew my attention to a manuscript collection of Donne’s poems (B), and with his kind assistance I was enabled to collate this at Walkden, Manchester, and again at Bridgewater House. Mr. Holme has also furnished a photograph of the title-page of the edition of 1611. To the authorities of Trinity College, Dublin, and of Trinity College, Cambridge, I am indebted not only for permission to collate their manuscripts on the spot, but for kindly lending them to be examined and compared in the Library at King’s College, Aberdeen; and I am indebted for a similar favour to the authorities of Queen’s College, Oxford. In Dublin I met Professor Edward Dowden, and no one has been a kinder friend to my enterprise. He put at my disposal his interesting and valuable manuscript (D) and all his collection of Donne’s works. He drew my attention to a manuscript (O’F) in Ellis and Elvey’s catalogue for 1903. Mr. Warwick Bond was good enough to lend me the notes he had made upon this manuscript, which ultimately I traced to Harvard College Library. With Professor Dowden, Mr. Edmund Gosse has given me the most generous and whole-hearted assistance. He lent me, as soon as ever I applied to him, his valuable and unique Westmoreland MS., containing many poems which were not included in any of the old editions. Some of these Mr. Gosse had already printed in his own delightful Life and Letters of John Donne (1899), but he has allowed me to reprint these and to print the rest of the unpublished poems for the first time. From his manuscript (G) of the Progresse of the Soule, or Metempsychosis, I have also obtained important emendations of the text. This is the most valuable manuscript copy of this poem. It will be seen that Mr. Gosse is a very material contributor to the completeness and interest of the present edition.

To the Marquess of Crewe I am indebted for permission to examine the manuscript M, to which a note of Sir John Simon’s had called my attention; and to Lord Leconfield for a like permission to collate a manuscript in his possession, of which a short description is given in the Hist. MSS. Commission, Sixth Report, p. 312, No. 118. With Mr. Whitcomb’s aid I was enabled to do this carefully, and he has subsequently verified references. Another interesting manuscript (JC) was lent me by Mr. Elkin Mathews, who has also put at my disposal his various editions of the Lives of Walton and other books connected with Donne. Almost at the eleventh hour, Mr. Geoffrey Keynes, of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, discovered for me a copy of the 1612 edition of the Anniversaries, for which I had asked in vain in Notes and Queries. I owe to him, and to the kind permission of Mr. Edward Huth and the Messrs. Sotheby, a careful collation and a photograph of the title-page.

For the Commentary Dr. Norman Moore supplied me with a note on the Galenists and Paracelsians; and Dr. Gaster with the materials for a note on Donne’s use of Jewish Apocrypha. Professor Picavet, of the Sorbonne, Paris, was kind enough to read in proof my notes on Donne’s allusions to Scholastic doctrines, and to make suggestions. But I have added to these notes as they passed through the Press, and he must not be made responsible for my errors. Mr. W. Barclay Squire and Professor C. Sanford Terry have revised my transcripts and proofs of the music.

I desire lastly to express my gratitude to the officials of the Clarendon Press for the care with which they have checked my proofs, the patience with which they have accepted my changes and additions, and the trouble they have taken to secure photographs, music, and other details. Whatever faults may be found—and I doubt not they will be many—in my part of the work, I think the part for which the Press is responsible is wellnigh faultless.

H. J. C. Grierson.

Dinnet, Aberdeenshire.
July 15, 1912.

John Donne This was for youth, Strength, Mirth, and wit that TimeMost count their golden Age; but t’was not thine.Thine was thy later yeares, so much refindFrom youths Drosse, Mirth, & wit; as thy pure mindThought (like the Angels) nothing but the PraiseOf thy Creator, in those last, best Dayes.Witnes this Booke, (thy Embleme) which beginsWith Love; but endes, with Sighes, & Teares for sins.IZ: WA:Will: Marshall sculpsit From the engraving prefixed to the Poems in theEditions of 1635, 1639, 1649, 1650, 1654John Donne

This was for youth, Strength, Mirth, and wit that Time Most count their golden Age; but t’was not thine. Thine was thy later yeares, so much refind From youths Drosse, Mirth, & wit; as thy pure mind Thought (like the Angels) nothing but the Praise Of thy Creator, in those last, best Dayes. Witnes this Booke, (thy Embleme) which begins With Love; but endes, with Sighes, & Teares for sins. IZ: WA: Will: Marshall sculpsit

From the engraving prefixed to the Poems in the Editions of 1635, 1639, 1649, 1650, 1654

Songs and Sonets

The Good-Morrow

I wonder by my troth, what thou, and I
Did, till we lov’d? were we not wean’d till then?
But suck’d on countrey pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the seaven sleepers den?
T’was so; But this, all pleasures fancies bee.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desir’d, and got, t’was but a dreame of thee.

And now good morrow to our waking soules,
Which watch not one another out of feare;
For love, all love of other sights controules,
And makes one little roome, an every where.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let Maps to other, worlds on worlds have showne,
Let us possesse one world, each hath one, and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appeares,
And true plaine hearts doe in the faces rest,
Where can we finde two better hemispheares
Without sharpe North, without declining West?
What ever dyes, was not mixt equally;
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none doe slacken, none can die.


Goe, and catche a falling starre,
Get with child a mandrake roote,
Tell me, where all past yeares are,
Or who cleft the Divels foot,
Teach me to heare Mermaides singing,
Or to keep off envies stinging,
And finde
What winde
Serves to advance an honest minde.

If thou beest borne to strange sights,
Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand daies and nights,
Till age snow white haires on thee,
Thou, when thou retorn’st, wilt tell mee
All strange wonders that befell thee,
And sweare
No where
Lives a woman true, and faire.

If thou findst one, let mee know,
Such a Pilgrimage were sweet;
Yet doe not, I would not goe,
Though at next doore wee might meet,
Though shee were true, when you met her,
And last, till you write your letter,
Yet shee
Will bee
False, ere I come, to two, or three.

Womans Constancy

Now thou hast lov’d me one whole day,
To morrow when thou leav’st, what wilt thou say?
Wilt thou then Antedate some new made vow?
Or say that now
We are not just those persons, which we were?
Or, that oathes made in reverentiall feare
Of Love, and his wrath, any may forsweare?
Or, as true deaths, true maryages untie,
So lovers contracts, images of those,
Binde but till sleep, deaths image, them unloose?
Or, your owne end to Justifie,
For having purpos’d change, and falsehood; you
Can have no way but falsehood to be true?
Vaine lunatique, against these scapes I could
Dispute, and conquer, if I would,
Which I abstaine to doe,
For by to morrow, I may thinke so too.

The Undertaking

I have done one braver thing
Then all the Worthies did,
And yet a braver thence doth spring,
Which is, to keepe that hid.

It were but madnes now t’impart
The skill of specular stone,
When he which can have learn’d the art
To cut it, can finde none.

So, if I now should utter this,
Others (because no more
Such stuffe to worke upon, there is,)
Would love but as before.

But he who lovelinesse within
Hath found, all outward loathes,
For he who colour loves, and skinne,
Loves but their oldest clothes.

If, as I have, you also doe
Vertue’attir’d in woman see,
And dare love that, and say so too,
And forget the Hee and Shee;

And if this love, though placed so,
From prophane men you hide,
Which will no faith on this bestow,
Or, if they doe, deride:

Then you have done a braver thing
Then all the Worthies did;
And a braver thence will spring,
Which is, to keepe that hid.

The Sunne Rising

Busie old foole, unruly Sunne,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windowes, and through curtaines call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers seasons run?
Sawcy pedantique wretch, goe chide
Late schoole boyes, and sowre prentices,
Goe tell Court-huntsmen, that the King will ride,
Call countrey ants to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knowes, nor clyme,
Nor houres, dayes, moneths, which are the rags of time.

Thy beames, so reverend, and strong
Why shouldst thou thinke?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a winke,
But that I would not lose her sight so long:
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Looke, and to morrow late, tell mee,
Whether both the’India’s of spice and Myne
Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with mee.
Aske for those Kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,
And thou shalt heare, All here in one bed lay.

She’is all States, and all Princes, I,
Nothing else is.
Princes doe but play us; compar’d to this,
All honor’s mimique; All wealth alchimie.
Thou sunne art halfe as happy’as wee,
In that the world’s contracted thus;
Thine age askes ease, and since thy duties bee
To warme the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art every where;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy spheare.

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