Verse > John Donne > The Poems of John Donne
John Donne (1572–1631).  The Poems of John Donne.  1896.
Letters to Several Personages
To Sir Edward Herbert
Now 1 Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Being at the Siege of Juliers

MAN is a lump, where all beasts kneaded be;
Wisdom makes him an ark, where all agree.
The fool, in whom these beasts do live at jar,
Is sport to others, and a theatre.
Nor ’scapes he so, but is himself their prey;        5
All which was man in him, is eat away;
And now his beasts on one another feed,
Yet couple in anger, and new monsters breed.
How happy ’s he, which hath due place assign’d
To his beasts, and disafforested his mind;        10
Empaled himself to keep them out, not in;
Can sow, and dares trust, corn where they have been;
Can use his horse, goat, wolf, and every beast,
And is not 2 ass himself to all the rest.
Else, man not only is the herd of swine,        15
But he’s those devils too, which did incline
Them to a 3 headlong rage, and made them worse;
For man can add weight to heaven’s heaviest curse.
As souls (they say) by our first touch take in
The poisonous tincture of original sin,        20
So, to the punishments which God doth fling,
Our apprehension contributes the sting.
To us, as to His chickens, He doth cast
Hemlock, and we, as men, His hemlock taste.
We do infuse to what He meant for meat        25
Corrosiveness, or intense cold or heat;
For God no such specific poison hath
As kills, we know not 4 how; His fiercest wrath
Hath no antipathy, but may be good
At least for physic, if not for our food.        30
Thus man, that might be His pleasure, is His rod,
And is His devil, that might be his God.
Since then our business is to rectify
Nature, to what she was, we’re led awry
By them, who man to us in little show,        35
Greater than due; no form we can bestow
On him, for man into himself can draw
All; all his faith can swallow, or reason chaw.
All that is filled and all that which doth fill,
All the round world, to man is but a pill;        40
In all it works not, but it is in all
Poisonous, or purgative, or cordial;
For knowledge kindles calentures in some,
And is to others icy opium.
As brave as true is that profession then        45
Which you do use to make—that you know man.
This makes it credible; you have dwelt upon
All worthy books, and now are such an one.
Actions are authors, and of those in you
Your friends find, every day, a mart of new.        50
Note 1. 1669, SINCE [back]
Note 2. l. 14. 1635, be not [back]
Note 3. l. 17. 1669 omits a [back]
Note 4. l. 28. 1635, men know not [back]

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