Verse > John Donne > The Poems of John Donne
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John Donne (1572–1631).  The Poems of John Donne.  1896.
 
Satires
Satire V. “Thou shalt not laugh in this leaf, Muse”
 
THOU shalt not laugh in this leaf, Muse, nor they
Whom any pity warms. He which did lay
Rules to make courtiers—he being understood
May make good courtiers, but who courtiers good?—
Frees from the sting of jests all who in extreme        5
Are wretched or wicked; of these two a theme
Charity and liberty give me. What is he,
Who officers’ rage and suitors’ misery
Can write and jest? 1 If all things be in all
—As I think, since all which were, are, and shall        10
Be, be made of the same elements,
Each thing each thing implies 2 or represents—
Then man is a world; in which officers
Are the vast ravishing seas, and suitors
Springs, now full, now shallow, now dry, which to        15
That which drowns them run; these self reasons do
Prove the world a man, in which officers
Are the devouring stomach, and suitors
Th’ excrements which they void. All men are dust;
How much worse are suitors, who to men’s lust        20
Are made preys? O, worse than dust or worms’ meat,
For they do eat you now, whose selves worms shall eat.
They are the mills which grind you, yet you are
The wind which drives them; and a wasteful war
Is fought against you, and you fight it; they        25
Adulterate law, and you prepare the way;
Like wittols, th’ issue your own ruin is.
Greatest and fairest empress, know you this?
Alas, no more than Thames’ calm head doth know
Whose meads her arms drown, or whose corn o’erflow.        30
You, sir, whose righteousness she loves, whom I,
By having leave to serve, am most richly
For service paid, authorized now begin
To know and weed out this enormous sin.
O age of rusty iron!—some better wit        35
Call it some worse name, if aught equal it—
Th’ iron age that was, when justice was sold—now
Injustice is sold dearer—did allow
All claimed fees and duties. Gamesters, anon, 3
The money which you sweat and swear for is gone        40
Into other hands. So controverted lands
’Scape, like Angelica, the striver’s hands.
If law be in the judge’s heart, and he
Have no heart to resist letter, or fee,
Where wilt thou appeal? power of the courts below        45
Flows from the first main head, and these can throw
Thee, if they suck thee in, to misery,
To fetters, halters. But if the injury
Steel thee to dare complain; alas, thou goest
Against the stream, upwards, when thou art most        50
Heavy and most faint; and in these labours they,
’Gainst whom thou shouldst complain, will in thy way 4
Become great seas, o’er which, when thou shalt be
Forced to make golden bridges, thou shalt see
That all thy gold was drown’d in them before.        55
All things follow their like; only who have, may have more.
Judges are gods; he who made and said them so, 5
Meant not men should be forced to them to go,
By means of angels. When supplications
We send to God; to Dominations,        60
Powers, Cherubins, and all heaven’s courts, 6 if we
Should pay fees as here, daily bread would be
Scarce to kings; so ’tis. Would it not anger
A Stoic, a coward, yea a martyr,
To see a pursuivant come in, and call        65
All his clothes copes, books primers, and all
His plate chalices, and mis-take them away,
And lack 7 a fee for coming? Oh! ne’er may
Fair Law’s white reverend name be strumpeted,
To warrant thefts; she is established        70
Recorder to Destiny on earth, and she
Speaks Fate’s words, and but tells us who must be
Rich, who poor; who in chairs, who in gaols.
She is all fair, but yet hath foul long nails,
With which she scratcheth suitors; in bodies        75
Of men, so in law, nails are extremities.
So officers stretch to more than law can do,
As our nails reach what no else part comes to.
Why barest thou to yon officer? Fool! hath he
Got those goods, for which erst men bared to thee?        80
Fool! twice, thrice thou hast bought wrong, and now hungrily
Beg’st right, but that dole comes not till these die.
Thou hadst much, and laws Urim and Thummim try
Thou wouldst for more; and for all hast paper
Enough to clothe all the great Carrick’s pepper.        85
Sell that, and by that thou much more shalt leese
Then Hammon 8 if he sold his antiquities.
O wretch, that thy fortunes should moralize
Esop’s fables, and make tales prophecies.
Thou art the swimming dog whom shadows cozened, 9        90
And divest, near drowning, for what vanished. 10
 
Note 1. l. 9. 1669, in jest [back]
Note 2. l. 12. So 1635; 1633, employs [back]
Note 3. ll. 37–39. So 1635; 1633, 1669,
  The iron age that (1669 omits that) was when justice was sold, now
Injustice is sold dearer far; allow
All demands, fees (1669, claim’d fees), and duties; gamesters, anon
 [back]
Note 4. l. 52. So 1635; 1633, the way [back]
Note 5. l. 57. 1669, and he who made them so [back]
Note 6. l. 61. So 1635; 1633, court [back]
Note 7. l. 68. 1669, ask [back]
Note 8. l. 87. So 1635; 1633, Haman when; 1669, Hammon when [back]
Note 9. l. 90. 1669, cozeneth [back]
Note 10. l. 91. 1669, vanisheth [back]
 
 
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