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John Donne (1572–1631).  The Poems of John Donne.  1896.
 
Letters to Several Personages
To the Countess of Bedford
 
  MADAM
Reason is our soul’s left hand, faith her right;
  By these we reach divinity, that’s you;
Their loves, who have the blessing 1 of your light,
  Grew from their reason; mine from fair faith grew.
 
But as, although a squint left-handedness        5
  Be ungracious, yet we cannot want that hand;
So would I—not to increase, but to express
  My faith—as I believe, so understand.
 
Therefore I study you first in your saints,
  Those friends whom your election glorifies;        10
Then in your deeds, accesses and restraints,
  And what you read, and what yourself devise.
 
But soon the reasons why you’re loved by all,
  Grow infinite, and so pass reason’s reach;
Then back again to implicit faith I fall,        15
  And rest on that the Catholic voice 2 doth teach—
 
That you are good; and not one heretic
  Denies it; if he did, yet you are so;
For rocks, which high to sense 3 deep-rooted stick,
  Waves wash, not undermine, nor overthrow.        20
 
In everything there naturally grows
  A balsamum to keep it fresh and new,
If ’twere not injured by extrinsic blows;
  Your birth and beauty are this balm in you.
 
But you, of learning, and religion,        25
  And virtue, and such ingredients, have made
A mithridate, whose operation
  Keeps off, or cures, what can be done or said.
 
Yet this is not your physic, but your food,
  A diet fit for you; for you are here        30
The first good angel, since the world’s frame stood,
  That ever did in woman’s shape appear.
 
Since you are then God’s masterpiece, and so
  His factor for our loves, do as you do;
Make your return home gracious, and bestow        35
  This life 4 on that; so make one life of two.
  For, so God help me, I would not miss you there,
  For all the good which you can do me here.
 
Note 1. l. 3. So 1635; 1633, blessings [back]
Note 2. l. 16. So 1635; 1633, Catholic faith [back]
Note 3. l. 19. 1669, which high do seem, [back]
Note 4. l. 36. So 1635; 1633, Thy life [back]
 
 
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