Verse > John Donne > The Poems of John Donne
John Donne (1572–1631).  The Poems of John Donne.  1896.
Letters to Several Personages
A Letter to the Lady Carey, and Mistress Essex Rich, from Amiens
Here, where by all all saints invoked are,
’Twere too much schism to be singular,
And ’gainst a practice general to war.
Yet turning to saints, should my humility
To other saints than you directed be,        5
That were to make my schism, heresy.
Nor would I be a convertite so cold,
As not to tell it; if this be too bold,
Pardons are in this market cheaply sold,
Where, because faith is in too low degree,        10
I thought it some apostleship in me
To speak things which by faith alone I see;
That is, of you, who are 1 a firmament
Of virtues, where no one is grown, or spent;
They’re your materials, not your ornament.        15
Others, whom we call virtuous, are not so
In their whole substance, but their virtues grow
But in their humours, and at seasons show.
For when through tasteless flat humidity 2
In dough-baked men some harmlessness we see,        20
’Tis but his phlegm that’s virtuous, and not he.
So is the blood sometimes; whoever ran
To danger unimportuned, he was then
No better than a sanguine virtuous man.
So cloistral men, who, in pretence of fear,        25
All contributions to this life forbear,
Have virtue in melancholy, and only there.
Spiritual choleric critics, which in all
Religions find faults, and forgive no fall,
Have through their zeal 3 virtue but in their gall.        30
We’re thus but parcel-gilt; to gold we’re grown
When virtue is our soul’s complexion;
Who knows his virtue’s name or place, hath none.
Virtue ’s but aguish, when ’tis several,
By occasion waked, and circumstantial;        35
True virtue ’s soul, always in all deeds all.
This virtue, thinking to give dignity
To your soul, found there no infirmity,
For your soul was as good virtue as she.
She therefore wrought upon that part of you        40
Which is scarce less than soul, as she could do;
And so hath made your beauty, virtue too.
Hence comes it that your beauty wounds not hearts,
As others, with profane and sensual darts;
But as an influence, virtuous thoughts imparts.        45
But if such friends by th’ honour of your sight
Grow capable of this so great a light,
As to partake your virtues and their might;
What must I think that influence must do,
Where it finds sympathy and matter too,        50
Virtue, and beauty of the same stuff, as you?
Which is, your noble worthy sister; she
Of whom, if what in this my ecstasy
And revelation of you both I see,
I should write here, as in short galleries        55
The master at the end large glasses ties,
So to present the room twice to our eyes,
So I should give this letter length, and say
That which I said of you; there is no way
From either, but by th’ other, 4 not to stray.        60
May therefore this be enough to testify
My true devotion, free from flattery;
He that believes himself, doth never lie.
Note 1. l. 13. So 1635; 1633, who is [back]
Note 2. l. 19. So 1669; 1633, humility [back]
Note 3. l. 30. 1635, this zeal [back]
Note 4. l. 60. 1669, to th’ other [back]

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