Verse > John Donne > The Poems of John Donne
John Donne (1572–1631).  The Poems of John Donne.  1896.
Letters to Several Personages
To Mr. Christopher Brooke: The Storm
From the Island Voyage with the Earl of Essex

THOU which art I—’tis nothing to be so—
Thou which art still thyself, by these 1 shalt know
Part of our passage; and a hand or eye
By Hilliard drawn is worth a history
By a worse painter made; and, without pride,        5
When by thy judgment they are dignified,
My lines are such. ’Tis the pre-eminence
Of friendship only to impute excellence.
England, to whom we owe what we be and have,
Sad that her sons did seek a foreign grave        10
—For Fate’s or Fortune’s drifts none can soothsay; 2
Honour and misery have one face, and way— 3
From out her pregnant entrails sigh’d a wind,
Which at th’ air’s middle marble room did find
Such strong resistance, that itself it threw        15
Downward again; and so when it did view
How in the port our fleet dear time did leese,
Withering like prisoners, which lie but for fees,
Mildly it kiss’d our sails, and fresh and sweet
—As to a stomach starved, whose insides meet,        20
Meat comes—it came; and swole our sails, when we
So joy’d, as Sarah her swelling joy’d to see.
But ’twas but so kind as our countrymen,
Which bring friends one day’s way, and leave them then.
Then like two mighty kings, which dwelling far        25
Asunder, meet against a third to war,
The south and west winds join’d, and, as they blew,
Waves like a rolling trench before them threw.
Sooner than you read this line, did the gale,
Like shot, not fear’d till felt, our sails assail;        30
And what at first was call’d a gust, the same
Hath now a storm’s, anon a tempest’s name.
Jonas, I pity thee, and curse those men
Who, when the storm raged most, did wake thee then.
Sleep is pain’s easiest salve, and doth fulfil        35
All offices of death, except to kill.
But when I waked, I saw that I saw not;
I, and the sun, which should teach me, had forgot
East, west, day, night; and I could only say,
If th’ world had lasted, now it had been day. 4        40
Thousands our noises were, yet we ’mongst all
Could none by his 5 right name, but thunder, call.
Lightning was all our light, and it rain’d more
Than if the sun had drunk the sea before.
Some coffin’d in their cabins lie, equally        45
Grieved that they are not dead, and yet must die;
And as sin-burden’d souls from grave will creep
At the last day, some forth their cabins peep,
And trembling 6 ask, “What news?” and do hear so
As jealous husbands, what they would not know.        50
Some sitting on the hatches would seem there
With hideous gazing to fear away fear.
Then note they the ship’s sicknesses, the mast
Shaked with an ague, 7 and the hold and waist
With a salt dropsy clogg’d, and all our tacklings        55
Snapping, like too-too-high-stretch’d 8 treble strings.
And from our tatter’d sails rags drop down so,
As from one hang’d in chains a year ago.
Even 9 our ordnance, placed for our defence,
Strives to break loose, and ’scape away from thence.        60
Pumping hath tired our men, and what’s the gain?
Seas into seas thrown, we suck in again;
Hearing hath deaf’d our sailors, and if they
Knew how to hear, there’s none knows what to say.
Compared to these storms, death is but a qualm,        65
Hell somewhat lightsome, the Bermudas 10 calm.
Darkness, light’s eldest brother, his birthright
Claims o’er the 11 world, and to heaven hath chasèd light.
All things are one, and that one none can be,
Since all forms uniform deformity        70
Doth cover; so that we, except God say
Another Fiat, shall have no more day.
So violent, yet long, these furies be,
That though thine absence starve me, I wish not thee.
Note 1. l. 2. 1635, by this [back]
Note 2. l. 11. 1669, gainsay [back]
Note 3. l. 12. So 1633, 1669: 1635, one way [back]
Note 4. l. 40. So 1633, 1669; 1635, it had yet been day [back]
Note 5. l. 42. 1669, by this [back]
Note 6. l. 49. So 1635; 1633, tremblingly [back]
Note 7. l. 54. So 1635; 1633, this ague [back]
Note 8. l. 56. So 1635; 1633, like too high stretched; 1669, like to too-high-stretched [back]
Note 9. l. 59. 1635, Yea, e’en [back]
Note 10. l. 66. So 1635; 1633, and the Bermudas [back]
Note 11. l. 68. So 1635; 1633, Claim’d o’er this [back]
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