16+ Best John Donne Poems You Must Read

John Donne was an English scholar, poet, soldier and secretary born into a catholic family, a remnant of the Catholic Revival, who reluctantly became a cleric in the Church of England.

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Famous John Donne Poems


Compassion in the world again is bred ;
Ralphius is sick, the broker keeps his bed.


Why this man gelded Martial I muse,
Except himself alone his tricks would use,
As Katherine, for the court’s sake, put down stews.


With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe,
Joseph, turn back ; see where your child doth sit,
Blowing, yea blowing out those sparks of wit,
Which Himself on the doctors did bestow.
The Word but lately could not speak, and lo !
It suddenly speaks wonders ; whence comes it,
That all which was, and all which should be writ,
A shallow seeming child should deeply know ?
His Godhead was not soul to His manhood,
Nor had time mellow’d Him to this ripeness ;
But as for one which hath a long task, ’tis good,
With the sun to begin His business,
He in His age’s morning thus began,
By miracles exceeding power of man.

To Mr. Rowland Woodward

LIKE one who in her third widowhood doth profess
Herself a nun, tied to retiredness,
So affects my Muse, now, a chaste fallowness.

Since she to few, yet to too many hath shown,
How love-song weeds and satiric thorns are grown,
Where seeds of better arts were early sown ;

Though to use and love poetry, to me,
Betroth’d to no one art, be no adultery ;
Omissions of good, ill, as ill deeds be.

For though to us it seems but light and thin,
Yet in those faithful scales, where God throws in
Men’s works, vanity weighs as much as sin.

If our souls have stain’d their first white, yet we
May clothe them with faith, and dear honesty,
Which God imputes as native purity.

There is no virtue but religion.
Wise, valiant, sober, just, are names which none
Want, which want not vice-covering discretion.

Seek we then ourselves in ourselves ; for as
Men force the sun with much more force to pass,
By gathering his beams with a crystal glass,

So we—if we into ourselves will turn,
Blowing our spark of virtue—may out-burn
The straw which doth about our hearts sojourn.

You know physicians, when they would infuse
Into any oil the souls of simples, use
Places, where they may lie still warm, to choose.

So works retiredness in us. To roam
Giddily and be everywhere, but at home,
Such freedom doth a banishment become.

We are but farmers of ourselves, yet may,
If we can stock ourselves, and thrive, uplay
Much, much dear treasure for the great rent day.

Manure thyself then, to thyself be improved ;
And with vain outward things be no more moved,
But to know that I love thee and would be loved.

La Corona

Deign at my hands this crown of prayer and praise,
Weaved in my lone devout melancholy,
Thou which of good hast, yea, art treasury,
All changing unchanged Ancient of days.
But do not with a vile crown of frail bays
Reward my Muse’s white sincerity ;
But what Thy thorny crown gain’d, that give me,
A crown of glory, which doth flower always.
The ends crown our works, but Thou crown’st our ends,
For at our ends begins our endless rest.
The first last end, now zealously possess’d,
With a strong sober thirst my soul attends.
‘Tis time that heart and voice be lifted high ;
Salvation to all that will is nigh.

Satire V

Thou shalt not laugh in this leafe, Muse, nor they
Whom any pity warmes; He which did lay
Rules to make Courtiers, (hee being understood
May make good Courtiers, but who Courtiers good?)
Frees from the sting of jests all who’in extreme
Are wrech’d or wicked: of these two a theame
Charity and liberty give me. What is hee
Who Officers rage, and Suiters misery
Can write, and jest? If all things be in all,
As I thinke, since all, which were, are, and shall
Bee, be made of the same elements:
Each thing, each thing implyes or represents.
Then man is a world; in which, Officers
Are the vast ravishing seas; and Suiters,
Springs; now full, now shallow, now drye; which, to
That which drownes them, run: These selfe reasons do
Prove the world a man, in which, officers
Are the devouring stomacke, and Suiters
Th’excrements, which they voyd. All men are dust;
How much worse are Suiters, who to mens lust
Are made preyes? O worse then dust, or wormes meat,
For they do’eate you now, whose selves wormes shall eate.
They are the mills which grinde you, yet you are
The winde which drives them; and a wastfull warre
Is fought against you, and you fight it; they
Adulterate lawe, and you prepare their way
Like wittals; th’issue your owne ruine is.
Greatest and fairest Empresse, know you this?
Alas, no more then Thames calme head doth know
Whose meades her armes drowne, or whose corne o’rflow:
You Sir, whose righteousnes she loves, whom I
By having leave to serve, am most richly
For service paid, authoriz’d, now beginne
To know and weed out this enormous sinne.
O Age of rusty iron! some better wit
Call it some worse name, if ought equall it;
Th’iron Age that was, when justice was sold; now
Injustice is sold dearer farre. Allow
All demands, fees, and duties; gamsters, anon
The mony which you sweat, and sweare for, is gon
Into’other hands: So controverted lands
Scape, like Angelica, the strivers hands.
If Law be in the Judges heart, and hee
Have no heart to resist letter, or fee,
Where wilt thou’appeale? Powre of the Courts below
Flow from the first maine head, and these can throw
Thee, if they sucke thee in, to misery,
To fetters, halters; But if th’injury
Steele thee to dare complaine, Alas, thou go’st
Against the stream, when upwards: when thou’art most
Heavy’and most faint; and in these labours they,
‘Gainst whom thou should’st complaine, will in the way
Become great seas, o’r which, when thou shalt bee
Forc’d to make golden bridges, thou shalt see
That all thy gold was drown’d in them before;
All things follow their like, only who have may’have more.
Judges are Gods; he who made and said them so,
Meant not that men should be forc’d to them to goe,
By meanes of Angels; When supplications
We send to God, to Dominations,
Powers, Cherubins, and all heavens Courts, if wee
Should pay fees as here, daily bread would be
Scarce to Kings; so ’tis. Would it not anger
A Stoicke, a coward, yea a Martyr,
To see a Pursivant come in, and call
All his cloathes, Copes; Bookes, Primers; and all
His Plate, Challices; and mistake them away,
And aske a fee for comming? Oh, ne’r may
Faire lawes white reverend name be strumpeted,
To warrant thefts: she is established
Recorder to Destiny, on earth, and shee
Speakes Fates words, and but tells us who must bee
Rich, who poore, who in chaires, who in jayles:
Shee is all faire, but yet hath foule long nailes,
With which she scracheth Suiters; In bodies
Of men, so’in law, nailes are th’extremities,
So Officers stretch to more then Law can doe,
As our nailes reach what no else part comes to.
Why bar’st thou to yon Officer? Foole, Hath hee
Got those goods, for which erst men bar’d to thee?
Foole, twice, thrice, thou’hast bought wrong,’and now hungerly
Beg’st right; But that dole comes not till these dye.
Thou’had’st much, and lawes Urim and Thummim trie
Thou wouldst for more; and for all hast paper
Enough to cloath all the great Carricks Pepper.
Sell that, and by that thou much more shalt leese,
Then Haman, when he sold his Antiquities.

To Mr. I. P.

BLEST are your north parts, for all this long time
My sun is with you ; cold and dark’s our clime ;
Heaven’s sun, which stay’d so long from us this year,
Stay’d in your north, I think, for she was there ;
And hither by kind nature drawn from thence,
Here rages, chafes, and threatens pestilence.
Yet I, as long as she from hence doth stay,
Think this no south, no summer, nor no day.
With thee my kind and unkind heart is run ;
There sacrifice it to that beauteous sun.
So may thy pastures with their flowery feasts,
As suddenly as lard, fat thy lean beasts ;
So may thy woods oft poll’d, yet ever wear
A green, and—when thee list—a golden hair ;
So may all thy sheep bring forth twins ; and so
In chase and race may thy horse all out-go ;
So may thy love and courage ne’er be cold ;
Thy son ne’er ward ; thy loved wife ne’er seem old.
But mayst thou wish great things, and them attain,
As thou tell’st her, and none but her, my pain.


Klockius so deeply hath sworn ne’er more to come
In bawdy house, that he dares not go home.

To Sir Henry Wotton Ii

HERE’S no more news than virtue ; I may as well
Tell you Calais, or Saint Michael’s tales, as tell
That vice doth here habitually dwell.

Yet as, to get stomachs, we walk up and down,
And toil to sweeten rest ; so, may God frown,
If, but to loathe both, I haunt court or town.

For, here, no one’s from th’ extremity
Of vice by any other reason free,
But that the next to him still ‘s worse than he.

In this world’s warfare, they whom rugged Fate
(God’s commissary) doth so throughly hate,
As in the court’s squadron to marshal their state ;

if they stand arm’d with silly honesty,
With wishes, prayers, and neat integrity,
Like Indians ‘gainst Spanish hosts they be.

Suspicious boldness to this place belongs,
And to have as many ears as all have tongues ;
Tender to know, tough to acknowledge wrongs.

Believe me, sir, in my youth’s giddiest days,
When to be like the court was a play’s praise,
Plays were not so like courts, as courts like plays.

Then let us at these mimic antics jest,
Whose deepest projects and egregious gests
Are but dull morals of a game at chests.

But now ’tis incongruity to smile,
Therefore I end ; and bid farewell awhile ;

Translated Out Of Gazaeus

GOD grant thee thine own wish, and grant thee mine,
Thou who dost, best friend, in best things outshine ;
May thy soul, ever cheerful, ne’er know cares,
Nor thy life, ever lively, know grey hairs,
Nor thy hand, ever open, know base holds,
Nor thy purse, ever plump, know pleats, or folds,
Nor thy tongue, ever true, know a false thing,
Nor thy words, ever mild, know quarrelling,
Nor thy works, ever equal, know disguise,
Nor thy fame, ever pure, know contumelies,
Nor thy prayers know low objects, still divine ;
God grant thee thine own wish, and grant thee mine.

To The Earl Of Doncaster

SEE, sir, how, as the sun’s hot masculine flame
Begets strange creatures on Nile’s dirty slime,
In me your fatherly yet lusty rhyme
—For these songs are their fruits—have wrought the same.
But though th’ engend’ring force from which they came
Be strong enough, and Nature doth admit
Seven to be born at once ; I send as yet
But six ; they say the seventh hath still some maim.
I choose your judgment, which the same degree
Doth with her sister, your invention, hold,
As fire these drossy rhymes to purify,
Or as elixir, to change them to gold.
You are that alchemist, which always had
Wit, whose one spark could make good things of bad.

To Sir Henry Goodyere

WHO makes the last a pattern for next year,
Turns no new leaf, but still the same things reads ;
Seen things he sees again, heard things doth hear,
And makes his life but like a pair of beads.

A palace, when ’tis that which it should be,
Leaves growing, and stands such, or else decays ;
But he which dwells there is not so ; for he
Strives to surge upward, and his fortune raise.

So had your body her morning, hath her noon,
And shall not better ; her next change is night ;
But her fair, larger guest, to whom sun and moon
Are sparks, and short-lived, claims another right.

The noble soul by age grows lustier ;
Her appetite and her digestion mend.
We must not starve, nor hope to pamper her
With women’s milk, and pap, unto the end.

Provide you manlier diet. You have seen
All libraries, which are schools, camps, and courts ;
But ask your garners if you have not been
In harvest too indulgent to your sports.

Would you redeem it ? then yourself transplant
Awhile from hence. Perchance outlandish ground
Bears no more wit than ours ; but yet more scant
Are those diversions there, which here abound.

To be a stranger hath that benefit,
We can beginnings, but not habits choke.
Go—whither ? hence. You get, if you forget ;
New faults, till they prescribe to us, are smoke.

Our soul, whose country’s heaven, and God her Father,
Into this world, corruption’s sink, is sent ;
Yet so much in her travel she doth gather,
That she returns home wiser than she went.

It pays you well, if it teach you to spare,
And make you ashamed to make your hawks’ praise yours,
Which when herself she lessens in the air,
You then first say, that high enough she towers.

However, keep the lively taste you hold
Of God ; love Him as now, but fear Him more ;
And in your afternoons think what you told
And promised Him, at morning prayer before.

Let falsehood like a discord anger you,
Else not be froward. But why do I touch
Things of which none is in your practice new ?
And fables, or fruit-trenchers teach as much.

But thus I make you keep your promise, sir,
Riding I had you, though you still stay’d there ;
And in these thoughts, although you never stir,
You came with me to Mitcham, and are here.

To Sir Henry Wotton

SIR, more than kisses, letters mingle souls,
For thus, friends absent speak. This ease controls
The tediousness of my life ; but for these
I could ideate nothing which could please ;
But I should wither in one day, and pass
To a bottle of hay, that am a lock of grass.
Life is a voyage, and in our lives’ ways
Countries, courts, towns are rocks, or remoras ;
They break or stop all ships, yet our state’s such,
That though than pitch they stain worse, we must touch.
If in the furnace of the raging line,
Or under th’ adverse icy pole thou pine,
Thou know’st two temperate regions, girded in,
Dwell there ; but O, what refuge canst thou win
Parch’d in the court, and in the country frozen ?
Shall cities built of both extremes be chosen ?
Can dung or garlic be perfume ? Or can
A scorpion or torpedo cure a man ?
Cities are worst of all three ; of all three ?
O knotty riddle ! ; each is worst equally.
Cities are sepulchres ; they who dwell there
Are carcases, as if no such there were.
And courts are theatres, where some men play
Princes, some slaves, all to one end, of one clay.
The country is a desert, where the good,
Gain’d, inhabits not, born, is not understood.
There men become beasts, and prone to more evils ;
In cities blocks, and in a lewd court devils.
As in the first chaos, confusedly,
Each element’s qualities were in th’ other three,
So pride, lust, covetise, being several
To these three places, yet all are in all,
And mingled thus, their issue is incestuous.
Falsehood is denizen’d ; virtue is barbarous.
Let no man say there, “ Virtue’s flinty wall
Shall lock vice in me, I’ll do none, but know all.”
Men are sponges, which, to pour out, receive ;
Who know false play, rather than lose, deceive.
For in best understandings sin began,
Angels sinn’d first, then devils, and then man.
Only perchance beasts sin not ; wretched we
Are beasts in all but white integrity.
I think if men, which in these place live,
Durst look in themselves, and themselves retrieve,
They would like strangers greet themselves, seeing then
Utopian youth grown old Italian.
Be then thine own home, and in thyself dwell ;
Inn anywhere ; continuance maketh hell.
And seeing the snail, which everywhere doth roam,
Carrying his own house still, still is at home ;
Follow—for he is easy paced—this snail,
Be thine own palace, or the world’s thy gaol.
And in the world’s sea do not like cork sleep
Upon the water’s face ; nor in the deep
Sink like a lead without a line ; but as
Fishes glide, leaving no print where they pass,
Nor making sound ; so closely thy course go,
Let men dispute, whether thou breathe or no.
Only in this be no Galenist—to make
Courts’ hot ambitions wholesome, do not take
A dram of country’s dullness ; do not add
Correctives, but, as chemics, purge the bad.
But, sir, I advise not you, I rather do
Say o’er those lessons, which I learn’d of you ;
Whom, free from Germany’s schisms, and lightness
Of France, and fair Italy’s faithlessness,
Having from these suck’d all they had of worth,
And brought home that faith which you carried forth,
I thoroughly love ; but if myself I’ve won
To know my rules, I have, and you have DONNE.

Psalme Cxxxvii.

By Euphrates’ flowry side
We did bide,
From deare Juda faire absented,
Tearing the aire with our cryes ;
And our eyes
With their streames his streame augmented.

When, poore Syon’s dolefull state,
Desolate ;
Sacked, burned, and inthrall’d,
And the temple spoil’d, which wee
IS e’er should see,
To our mirthlesse mindes wee call’d :

Our mute harpes, untun’d, unstrung,
Up wee hung
On greene willowes neere beside us,
Where we, sitting all forlorne,
Thus in scorne
Our proud spoylers ‘gan deride us:

Come, sad captives, leave your moanes,
And your groanes
Under Syon’s ruines bury;
Tune your harps, and sing us layes
In the praise
Of your God, and let’s be merry.

Can, ah ! can we leave our moanes,
And our groanes
Under Syon’s ruines bury ?
Can we in this land sing layes
In the praise
Of our God, and here be merry ?

No; deare Syon, if I yet
Do forget
Thine affliction miserable,
Let my nimble joynts become
Stiffe and numme,
To touch warbling harpe unable.

Let my tongue lose singing skill,
Let it still
To my parched roofe be glewed,
If in either harpe or voice
I rejoice
Till thy joyes shall be renewed.

Lord, curse Edom’s traiterous kinde
Beare in minde
In our ruines how they revell’d
Sack, kill, burne ! they cryed out still,
Sack, burne, kill!
Downe with all, let all be levell’d.

And thou Babel, when the tide
Of thy pride,
Now a flowing, growe to turning;
Victor now, shall then be thrall,
And shall fall
To as low an ebbe of mourning.

Happy he who shall thee waste,
As thou hast
Us, without all mercy, wasted,
And shall make thee taste and see
What poore wee
By thy meanes have seene and tasted.

Happy who thy tender barnes,
From the armes
Of their wailing mothers tearing,
‘Gainst the walls shall dash their bones,
Ruthlesse stones
With their braines and blood besmearing.

Good Friday

Let man’s soule be a spheare, and then in this
The intelligence that moves devotion is;
And as the other spheares by being growne
Subject to forraigne motion lose their owne,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a yeare their naturall forme obey :
Pleasure or businesse, so our soules admit
For their first mover, and are whirled by it.
Hence is’t that I am carryed toward the West
This day, when my soule’s forme leads toward the East.
There I should see a Sunne by rising set,
And by that setting endlesse day beget.
But that Christ on this Crosse did rise and fall,
Sinne had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I almost be glad I do not see
The spectacle of too much weight for mee.
Who sees God’s face, that is selfe life, must dye;
What a death were it then to see God dye!
It made his own lieutenant Nature shrinke,
It made his footstoole crack, and the sunne winke.
Could I behold those hands which span the poles
And tune all spheares at once pierc’d with those holes ?
Could I behold that endlesse height which is
Zenith to us, and our antipodes
Humbled below us? or that blood which is
The seat of all our soules, if not of his,
Made dust of dust ? or that flesh which was worne
By God, for his apparell, rag’d and torne ?
If on these things I durst not looke, durst I
Upon his miserable mother cast mine eye,
Who was God’s partner here, and furnish’d thus
Halfe of that Sacrifice which ransom’d us ?
Though these things as I ride be from mine eye,
They are present yet into my memory;
For that looks towards them, and thou lookst towards mee,
Saviour, as thou hangst upon the tree:
I turne my backe to thee but to receive
Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.
O thinke mee worth thine anger ; punish mee ;
Burne off my rusts and my deformity ;
Restore thine image so much by thy grace
That thou may’st know mee, and I’ll turne my face.

The Soule

Thee, eye of heaven, this great soule envies not;
By thy male force is all wee have begot;
In the first East thou now begins to shine;
Suck’st early balme, and island spices there;
And wilt anon, in thy loose-rein’d careere
At Tagus, Po, Sene, Thames, and Danon dine,
And see at night thy Westerne land of Myne :
Yet hast thou not more nations seene than shee,
That before thee one day beganne to bee,
And, thy fraill light being quenched, shall long, long outlive thee.