Verse > Anthologies > William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. > The Book of Elizabethan Verse
William Stanley Braithwaite, ed.  The Book of Elizabethan Verse.  1907.
By John Donne (1572–1631)
 That Time and Absence proves
Rather helps than hurts to loves

ABSENCE, 1 hear thou my protestation
      Against thy strength,
      Distance and length:
Do what thou canst for alteration,
      For hearts of truest mettle        5
      Absence doth join and Time doth settle.
Who loves a mistress of such quality,
      He soon hath found
      Affection’s ground
Beyond time, place, and all mortality.        10
      To hearts that cannot vary
      Absence is present, Time doth tarry.
My senses want their outward motion
      Which now within
      Reason doth win,        15
Redoubled in her secret notion:
      Like rich that take pleasure
      In hiding more than handling treasure.
By Absence this good means I gain,
      That I can catch her        20
      Where none doth watch her,
In some close corner of my brain:
      There I embrace and kiss her,
      And so I both enjoy and miss her.
Note 1. Absence, hear thou my protestation.  On the evidence of an early MS. this poem has been assigned to Donne, which seems well affirmed by the peculiar attributes it possesses of Donne’s genius. It appeared unsigned in Davison’s Poetical Rhapsody, 1602, and later in a collection of verse called The Grove, 1721. “The circumstances,” writes Mr. Quiller-Couch, “of Donne’s life give these verses a peculiar interest. Being secretary to the Lord Chancellor Ellesmere, he ‘passionately fell in love with, and privately married, a niece of the Lady Ellesmere’s, the daughter of Sir George Moor, Chancellor of the Garter, and Lieutenant of the Tower, which so much enraged Sir George, that he not only procured Mr. Donne’s dismission from his employment under the Lord Chancellor, but never rested till he had caused him likewise to be imprisoned. Though it was not long before he was enlarged from his confinement, yet his troubles still increased upon him; for his wife being detained from him, he was constrained to claim her by a troublesome and expensive lawsuit, which, together with travel, books, and a too liberal disposition, contributed to reduce his fortune to a very narrow compass.
  “‘Adversity has its peculiar virtues to exercise and work upon, as well as the most flourishing condition of life; and Mr. Donne had now an opportunity of showing his patience and submission, which, together with the general approbation he everywhere met with of Mr. Donne’s good qualities, with an irresistible kind of persuasion so won upon Sir George, that he began now not wholly to disapprove of his daughter’s choice; and was at length so far reconciled as not to deny them his blessing.’ The death of his wife broke Donne’s heart.” (The Golden Pomp.) Compare these verses with Carew’s To his Mistress in Absence, Vincent’s ed. Poems of Carew, 1899, p. 29. [back]

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