Herbert J.C. Grierson, ed. (18861960). Metaphysical Lyrics & Poems of the 17th C. 1921.
All the poems by Donne given here (except Goodfriday, 1613. Riding Westward) were written after the death of his wife in 1617, and are eloquent of sorrow and remorse. Conceits and ruggedness notwithstanding, they may be read with the great penitentiary psalms.
l. 3. 'I runne to death', &c. I am weary of my groaning; every night wash I my bed: and water my couch with my tears, &c. (Psalms vi. 6.)
ll. 78. 'my feeble flesh doth waste By sinne in it', &c. There is no health in my flesh, because of thy displeasure: neither is there any rest in my bones, by reason of my sin, &c. (Psalms xxxviii. 3, &c.)
This is my playes last scene. Donne had been in his youth 'a great Visiter of Ladies, a great Frequenter of Plays, a great Writer of conceited Verses' (Richard Baker, Chronicle of the Kings of England). In the sermons Donne speaks of 'the obscenities and scurrilities of a Comedy, or the drums and ejulations of a Tragedie'.
l. 13. 'Impute me righteous'. 'God promiseth to forgive us our sins and to impute us for full righteous' (Tyndale). This construction is obsolete. The regular use is as in: 'David describeth the blessed fulness of that man unto whom God imputeth righteousness without deeds' (Romans iv. 6 (Great Bible)).
l. 1. The different spheres of heaven in the old astronomy were each moved and directed by an Intelligence or Angel. Each of the spheres after the first, the Primum Mobile, has its own movement, but is also affected by the others; hence the (as it seemed) erratic movements of the planets. So our souls, which should follow God's law, admit pleasure and business as their chief motives.
l. 10. 'my Soules forme', i. e. essence, true nature.
Era il giorno ch'al sol si scoloraro,
Per la pietà del suo fattore, i rai.
Petrarch, Canz. 3.
l. 22. 'turne' MSS.: 'tune' Edd., which is perhaps right; but the chief idea here is of God's power.
l. 24. 'Zenith to us,' &c., i. e., apparently, 'height so infinite that for Him the difference between us and our antipodes is nonexistent. He is zenith to both.'
Hymne to God. This was written, as Sir Julius Caesar's copy (Add. MS. 34324, Brit. Mus.) states, during Donne's sickness in 1623, when he composed his Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, and severall steps in my Sickness, 1624. Walton wrongly assigns its composition to Donne's last illness in 1630.
l. 16. 'Is the Pacifique Sea', &c. 'Be my home in the Pacific, or in the East Indies, or in Jerusalem,to each I must sail through a strait, viz. Anyan (i. e. Behring) Strait if I go west by the North-West passage, or Magellan (for the route round Cape Horn was unknown), or Gibraltar.'
l. 22. 'Christs Crosse, and Adams tree'. An old belief.
A Dialogue, &c. Reliquiæ Wottonianæ, 1651, signed 'Ignoto'.
l. 172. 'Swindges the scaly Horrour'. So Spenser of the dragon on which Duessa rode; 'Scourging th' emptie ayre with his long traine' (Faerie Queene, I. viii. 17). These grotesque figures have disappeared in Paradise Lost.
l. 6. 'anneal', i. e. fix the colours by heating the glass. With the whole poem compare the missionary poet, A. S. Cripps's All Saints' Day in Lyra Evangelistica, Blackwell, Oxford, 1911:
It was God's choice ere mine that I should be
The one dim casement by whose panes they see,
These maiden knights of mine,their elders' chivalry!
. . . . . . . .
At my poor breath-dimm'd panes what pomps unfold!
See the Host rise a Harvest Moon of gold!
Lo the Vine's Branches bend with clusters yet untold!
Flawed priest, that God should choose to make of thee
A nursery window, whence his babes may see
Rapture of Saints that are, wonder of Saints to be!
l. 11. 'closes', i. e. the cadences or conclusions of musical phrases.
Jesu. 'J' and 'I' must be read as the same letter. 'I in the other power is meerely an other Letter, and would aske to enjoy an other Character. For, where it leads the sounding Vowell, and beginneth the Syllabe, it is ever a Consonant: as in James, John,... having the force of ... the Italians Gi' (Ben Jonson, English Grammar).
The Collar, i. e. the inhibitions of conscience and God's Spirit. Herbert compares the waiter on God's will to the suitor at Court.
Aaron. See Exodus xxviii. 2 f. 'And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother', &c.
l. 2. 'Light and perfections'. 'And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgement the Urim and the Thummim', &c. (Exodus xxviii. 30). Marginal note, 'That is the Lights and the Perfections'.
l. 3. 'Harmonious bells'. 'A golden bell and a pomegranate upon the skirts of the robe round about' (Exodus xxviii. 335). Hence Browning's 'Bells and Pomegranates'. Each verse of Herbert's poem suggests metrically the swelling and dying sound of a bell; and, like a bell, the rhymes reiterate the same sound.
To the Countesse of Denbigh. From Carmen Deo Nostro, Te Decet Hymnus, Sacred Poems, Collected, Corrected, Augmented, Paris, 1652. I have followed this text, in this and the following poems by Crashaw, with some corrections from edd. 1646, 1648. The French printer adopts for the article 'a' the form for the French preposition 'à'.
The Countesse of Denbigh is, I suppose, the sister of the Duke of Buckingham and wife of William Feilding, first Earl. The second Earl took the side of the Parliament, though half-heartedly.
Shee sings thy Teares asleepe, and dips
Her Kisses in thy weeping Eye,
She spreads the red leaves of thy Lips
That in their Buds yet blushing lye,
She 'gainst those Mother-Diamonds tryes
The points of her young Eagles Eyes.
Hymn in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In 1648, where this poem first appears, the title is A Hymne to Our Saviour by the Faithfull Receiver of the Sacrament. I have corrected a few errors of the Paris printer of 1652 from earlier editions, e. g. l. 33, 'Help, lord, my Faith, my Hope increase', where 1652 drops 'my Faith'.
The Weeper. This is the title in 1646, 1648. The poem is headed by a couplet:
Loe where a Wounded Heart with Bleeding Eyes conspire,
Is she a Flaming Fountain, or a Weeping fire?
l. 2. 'sylver-footed'. The editions of 1646, 1648, and Addit. MS. 33219 read 'silver-forded', i. e. with silver fords, but 'silver-footed' personifies the rills.
l. 23. 'Waters above th'Heavns', &c. What the 'waters above the firmament' (Genesis i. 7) were was a difficult problem for Catholic philosophy. See Donne's Poems (Oxford), ii. 210.
Hymn to Saint Teresa. First title was 'In memory of the Vertuous and Learned Lady Madre de Teresa that sought an Early Martyrdome'. For the martyrdom see George Eliot, Middlemarch, Prelude.
Regeneration. From Henry Vaughan's Silex Scintillans: Or Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations, 1650, 1655. A symbolic parable on the theme: 'The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit' (John iii. 8). The descriptions of nature have the freshness, the suggestion of drawing straight from life, which is all Vaughan's own in his century. There is no suspicion of conventional pastoralism or decoration. The closest parallel, in the poetry of the century, is found in some of the nature pieces of the Dutch poet Vondel.
l. 31. 'stept'. I have little doubt Vaughan wrote 'slept'.
Man. This and the previous poem contain the essence of the thought which Wordsworth returned to with such imaginative passion after the storm and stress of revolutionary hopes and disappointments. The life of nature, of natural things, trees and flowers and rivers and mountains and birds and beasts, is in some way right, in harmony with the Divine will, as Man's life is not. In them natural impulse and natural inhibition have harmonized, and their life is full of content and joy:
If this belief from Heaven be sent,
If such be Nature's holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?
Modern feeling has moved away from such confidence, which was a development of the doctrine of the Fall. The life of natural things too, we sadly recognize, is full of effort and failure: 'Here as everywhere the Unfulfilled Intention, which makes life what it is, was as obvious as it could be among the depraved crowds of a city slum. The leaf was deformed, the curve was crippled, the taper was interrupted; the lichen ate the vigour of the stalk and the ivy slowly strangled to death the promising sapling' (Thomas Hardy, The Woodlanders).
The dwelling-place. The verses of St. John are: 'And they said unto him, Rabbi ... where abidest thou? He saith unto them, Come, and ye shall see. They came therefore and saw where he abode; and they abode with him that day'.
The Night. 'The same came unto him by night' (John iii. 2).
l. 29. 'Christs progress'. A marginal note in the 1650 edition refers to: 'And in the morning, a great while before day, he rose up and went out, and departed into a desert place, and there prayed' (Mark i. 35); and 'And every night he went out, and lodged in the mount that is called the mount of Olives' (Luke xxi. 37).