Three Poems By John Donne
Notes On Pronunciation: Since this is an international list, and not all listmembers are familiar with the traditional conventions of English poetry, a few explanations may be useful. All of the poems that follow are written in iambic pentameter. That is, a line normally has ten syllables, with five stresses, which normally fall on the even-numbered syllables, although their position may vary (in particular, the stress on the second syllable is often transferred to the first). A sonnet has fourteen lines: an octet of eight lines, followed by a sestet of six. In some of these poems, Donne uses a convention that is a requirement of classical Latin poetry: the elision. If a word ends in a vowel (or diphthong) and the next word begins with one, the first vowel is omitted and the number of syllables in the line reduced by one. As an aid to the reader, I have inserted an "=" sign at each elision. In modern English the "e" in the ending "-ed" of a verb is usually silent. Sometimes in older English it is sounded, creating an extra syllable. When this happens, I have capitalized the "-Ed".

Sonnet XIV

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow= me and bend

Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like a usurped town to= another due,

Labor to= admit you, but oh, to no end;

Reason, your viceroy= in me, me should defend, But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly= I love you,= and would be lovED fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy

Divorce me,= untie or break that knot again; Take me to you, imprison me, for I

Except you= enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Sonnet X

Death, be not proud, though some have callED thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow

Die not, poor Death; nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy picture be,

Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow;

And soonest our best men with thee do go-- Rest of their bones and souls' delivery!

Thou= art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;

And poppy= or charms can make us sleep as well And better than thy stroke, Why swell'st thou then?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally,

And Death shall be no more: Death, thou shalt die!
Hymn To God, My God, in My Sickness

(Numbered footnotes below.)

Since I am coming to that holy room
Where, with thy choir of saints for evermore I shall be made thy music, as I come

I tune the instrument here at the door,

And what I must do then, think here before.(1)

Whilst my physicians by their love are grown
Cosmographers(2), and I their map, who lie Flat on this bed, that by them may be shown

That this is my southwest discovery,(3)

Per Fretum Febris,(4) by these straits to die,(5)

I joy that in these straits I see my west;
For though their currents yield return to none, What shall my west hurt me? As west and east

In all flat maps (and I am one) are one,

So death doth touch the resurrection. (6)

Is the Pacific Sea my home? Or are
The eastern riches? Is Jerusalem? Anyan,(7) and Magellan, and Gibraltar,(8)

All straits, and none but straits, are ways to them,(9)

Whether where Japhet dwelt, or Cham, or Shem.(10)

We think that Paradise, and Calvary,
Christ's cross, and Adam's tree, stood in one place;(11) Look, Lord, and find both Adams met in me;

As the first Adam's sweat surrounds my face,

May the last Adam's blood my soul embrace.

So, in his purple wrapp'd receive me, Lord,
By these his thorns give me his other crown; And as to others' souls I preached thy word,

Be this my text, my sermon to mine own:

"Therefore, that he may raise, the Lord throws down."

Notes: (1) That is: "Since I am on the verge of death, let me prepare my thoughts." (2) Cosmography is the study of the basic structure and constitution of the world. (3) "Southwest discovery" refers to the fact that from England one can reach the riches of the Orient by sailing southwest around South America through the Straits of Magellan, or northwest around North America through the Bering Straits, or southeast around Africa, or northeast around Norway and Siberia. One can also go east through the Straits of Gibraltar and then across land, either across the Isthmus of Suez and then again by sea to India or else by the Silk Road to China along the route of Marco Polo. Donne here speaks of the "southwest discovery," the route taken by the explorer Magellan. (4) "Per fretum febris," by the wearing away of a fever (Latin). The explorer Magellan, who made the "southwest discovery," died "per fretum febris" before he could complete his goal of sailing around the earth. Donne, at the time of this writing, is ill with a fever. (5) "Strait" means "narrow, constricted, or tight" (as in "strait-laced," referring to the extremely tight corsets that were once fashionable, and thence by analogy to someone considered to be inflexible in his behavior). It is not to be confused with "straight", meaning "not crooked". A strait is a narrow passage, a tight sqeeze, especially a narrow sea passage connecting two larger bodies of water, and bounded closely on either side by land. The word also refers, especially in the plural, to a situation of distress, deprivation, difficulty, perplexity, misfortune, or the like. (A man lost in the desert is said to be "in dire straits".) Hence Donne, playing on the double meaning of the word "strait," says that he is about to die of his present distress, meaning his fever and his illness. (6) On a flat map of the whole world the far east (the rightmost edge of the map) and the far west (the leftmost edge of the map) are places that touch on a globe or in the real world.

(7) "Anyan" is another name for the Bering Straits. (8) We place the stresses in this line as follows:
   "An-yan, and MA-gel-LAN, and GIB-ral-TAR".
(9) No matter what desirable and fabled country is my destiny, I
Must sail through a narrow strait to reach it. The same is true of Heaven, which I shall reach by passing through the strait of death. (10) The three sons of Noah were named Shem, Ham and Japheth. (The initial sound of "Ham," or "Cham" is a throaty breathing as in the name "Bach." Neither Greek nor Hebrew nor Latin has the sound of "ch" used in English words like "church," and therefore a name in the Bible with a "Ch" in it should always be pronounced in English with a "K" sound or a German "Ch" sound, unless the name has been thoroughly assimilated into English (like "Rachel", for example). The three sons are thought of as ancestors of the inhabitants of the thee continents known to the ancients: Asia, Africa, and Europe. (11) A common Christian usage, going back to the Apostle Paul (see 1 Corinthians 15:20-22,45-49), is to contrast Adam and Christ, or to call Christ the new Adam. The old Adam is the beginning of the fallen and wounded race of humanity; the new Adam is the beginning of the restored and healed race. What Adam did, Christ has undone. Hence the common supposition in poetry that the Cross was cut from the wood of the Forbidden Tree that once stood in the Garden of Eden, and that the hill of Calvary ("Skull Hill") where Christ was crucified was so called because that was where Adam was buried.

Unless otherwise indicated, this biographical sketch was written by James E. Kiefer and any comments about its content should be directed to him. The Biographical Sketches home page has more information.