Poetry Wednesday: John Donne, Love’s Fool

Stay, O sweet, and do not rise ;
The light that shines comes from thine eyes ;
The day breaks not, it is my heart,
Because that you and I must part.
Stay, or else my joys will die,
And perish in their infancy.

I adore me some John Donne, y’all.  Though I’m not always sure why . . .

He could be caustic, cruel, and severely misogynistic —certain that God himself made women deceitful and untrue and that love was the pastime of idiots.

Sex, sure—nothing wrong with that and he’ll tell you why in a most convincing fashion—but love? Ha.

But then I’ll read another poem of earnest romanticism and tender hope . . .  and wonder if the man was just a touch bipolar. If it weren’t for that singular voice and style, evident even within the restraints of the 17th century form,* I might suspect a sort of Donne collective.

This odd combination of love and scorn, holy and bawdy, blunt and delicate, hopeful and despairing, appears to run the gamut of the human experience.

And, frankly, the man’s afterglow is difficult to resist:

Break of Day
(John Donne)

‘Tis true, ’tis day ; what though it be?
O, wilt thou therefore rise from me?
Why should we rise because ’tis light?
Did we lie down because ’twas night?
Love, which in spite of darkness brought us hither,
Should in despite of light keep us together.

Light hath no tongue, but is all eye ;
If it could speak as well as spy,
This were the worst that it could say,
That being well I fain would stay,
And that I loved my heart and honour so
That I would not from him, that had them, go.

Must business thee from hence remove?
O ! that’s the worst disease of love,
The poor, the foul, the false, love can
Admit, but not the busied man.
He which hath business, and makes love, doth do
Such wrong, as when a married man doth woo.

Not bad for an Anglican priest. The third and fourth lines are probably my favorites—in my mind’s eye, there’s a sly smile that goes with them— though I certainly can’t fault the man for extolling the virtues, so to speak, of taking one’s time and paying attention.

Negative Love
(John Donne)

I never stoop’d so low, as they
Which on an eye, cheek, lip, can prey ;
Seldom to them which soar no higher
Than virtue, or the mind to admire.
For sense and understanding may
Know what gives fuel to their fire ;
My love, though silly, is more brave ;
For may I miss, whene’er I crave,
If I know yet what I would have.
If that be simply perfectest,
Which can by no way be express’d
But negatives, my love is so.
To all, which all love, I say no.
If any who deciphers best,
What we know not—ourselves—can know,
Let him teach me that nothing. This
As yet my ease and comfort is,
Though I speed not, I cannot miss.

That’s the stuff. And Donne, though he took some of his subject matter very seriously—especially in his sermons—he appeared to maintain a certain sense of humor about his poetry:

The Triple Fool
by John Donne

I am two fools, I know,
For loving, and for saying so
In whining poetry ;
But where’s that wise man, that would not be I,
If she would not deny ?
Then as th’ earth’s inward narrow crooked lanes
Do purge sea water’s fretful salt away,
I thought, if I could draw my pains
Through rhyme’s vexation, I should them allay.
Grief brought to numbers cannot be so fierce,
For he tames it, that fetters it in verse.
But when I have done so,
Some man, his art and voice to show,
Doth set and sing my pain ;
And, by delighting many, frees again
Grief, which verse did restrain.
To love and grief tribute of verse belongs,
But not of such as pleases when ’tis read.
Both are increasèd by such songs,
For both their triumphs so are published,
And I, which was two fools, do so grow three.
Who are a little wise, the best fools be.

I could share more, but I might save it for another Wednesday, when I’m in a more melancholy mood.


*I found this comment  scribbled in the margins of my copy of  17th Century Poetry and Prose— but it is in my handwriting.


12 thoughts on “Poetry Wednesday: John Donne, Love’s Fool

  1. Everytime I see a painting like that, I become obsessed with what the person might have looked like in real life. Being that the painters were generally broke and had to paint for their supper, the subject had to love the portrait. I wonder how close these paintings really were?

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