Verse > John Donne > The Poems of John Donne
John Donne (1572–1631).  The Poems of John Donne.  1896.
Letters to Several Personages
To the Countess of Huntingdon
Man to God’s image, Eve to man’s was made,
  Nor find we that God breathed a soul in her;
Canons will not Church functions you invade,
  Nor laws to civil office you prefer.
Who vagrant transitory comets sees,        5
  Wonders because they’re rare; but a new star,
Whose motion with the firmament agrees,
  Is miracle; for there, no new things are.
In woman so perchance mild innocence
  A seldom comet is; but active good        10
A miracle, which reason ’scapes, and sense;
  For art and nature this in them withstood.
As such a star the Magi 1 led to view
  The manger-cradled infant, God below,
By virtue’s beams—by fame derived from you—        15
  May apt souls—and the worst may—virtue know.
If the world’s age and death be argued well
  By the sun’s fall, which now towards earth doth bend,
Then we might fear that virtue, since she fell
  So low as woman, should be near her end.        20
But she’s not stoop’d, but raised; exiled by men
  She fled to heaven, that’s heavenly things, that’s you;
She was in all men thinly scatter’d then,
  But now a mass 2 contracted in a few.
She gilded us, but you are gold; and she        25
  Informed us, but transubstantiates you. 3
Soft dispositions, which ductile be,
  Elixirlike, she makes not clean, but new.
Though you a wife’s and mother’s name retain,
  ’Tis not as woman, for all are not so;        30
But virtue, having made you virtue, is fain
  To adhere in these names, her and you to show.
Else, being alike pure, we should neither see;
  As, water being into air rarified,
Neither appear, till in one cloud they be,        35
  So, for our sakes, you do low names abide.
Taught by great constellations—which being framed
  Of the most stars take low names, Crab and Bull,
When single planets by the gods are named—
  You covet not great names, of great things full.        40
So you, as woman, one doth comprehend,
  And in the veil 4 of kindred others see;
To some you are reveal’d, as in a friend,
  And as a virtuous prince far off to me.
To whom, because from you all virtues flow,        45
  And ’tis not none, to dare contemplate you,
I, which do so, as your true subject owe
  Some tribute for that; so these lines are due.
If you can think these flatteries, they are,
  For then your judgment is below my praise.        50
If they were so, oft, flatteries work as far
  As counsels, and as far th’ endeavour raise.
So my ill, reaching you, might there grow good,
  But I remain a poison’d fountain still;
And not your beauty, virtue, knowledge, blood        55
  Are more above all flattery, than my will.
And if I flatter any, ’tis not you,
  But my own judgment, who did long ago
Pronounce, that all these praises should be true,
  And virtue should your beauty and birth outgrow.        60
Now that my prophecies are all fulfill’d,
  Rather than God should not be honour’d too,
And all these gifts confessed, which He instill’d,
  Yourself were bound to say that which I do.
So I but your Recorder am in this,        65
  Or mouth, and Speaker 5 of the universe,
A ministerial notary, for ’tis
  Not I, but you and fame, that make this verse.
I was your prophet in your younger days,
And now your chaplain, God in you to praise.        70
Note 1. l. 13. So 1635; 1633, which Magi [back]
Note 2. l. 24. So 1635; 1633, amass’d [back]
Note 3. ll. 25, 26, So 1635; 1633,
  She gilded us, but you are gold, and she;
Us she inform’d, but transubstantiates you.
Note 4. l. 42. 1669, vale [back]
Note 5. l. 66. So 1635; 1633, or Speaker [back]

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