Home  »  The Poems of John Donne  »  Satire IV. “Well; I may now receive, and die”

John Donne (1572–1631). The Poems of John Donne. 1896.


Satire IV. “Well; I may now receive, and die”

WELL; I may now receive, and die. My sin

Indeed is great, but yet I have been in

A purgatory, such as fear’d hell is

A recreation and scant map of this.

My mind, nor with pride’s itch, nor yet hath been

Poison’d with love to see, or to be seen.

I had no suit there, nor new suit to show,

Yet went to court; but as Glaze which did go

To mass in jest, catch’d, was fain to disburse

The hundred marks, which is the statute’s curse,

Before he ’scaped; so ’t pleased my destiny—

Guilty of my sin in going—to think me

As prone to all ill, and of good as forget-

Full, as proud, lustful, and as much in debt,

As vain, as witless, and as false as they

Which dwell in court, for once going that way.

Therefore I suffer’d this; towards me did run

A thing more strange, than on Nile’s slime the sun

E’er bred, or all which into Noah’s ark came;

A thing which would have posed Adam to name;

Stranger than seven antiquaries’ studies,

Than Afric’s monsters, Guiana’s rarities;

Stranger than strangers; one, who for a Dane,

In the Danes’ massacre had sure been slain,

If he had lived then; and without help dies,

When next the ’prentices ’gainst strangers rise;

One, whom the watch, at noon, lets scarce go by;

One, to whom th’ examining justice sure would cry,

‘Sir, by your priesthood, tell me what you are.’

His clothes were strange, though coarse, and black, though bare;

Sleeveless his jerkin was, and it had been

Velvet, but ’twas now—so much ground was seen—

Become tufftaffaty; and our children shall

See it plain rash awhile, then nought at all.

The thing hath travell’d, and, faith, speaks all tongues,

And only knoweth what to all states belongs.

Made of th’ accents and best phrase of all these,

He speaks one language. If strange meats displease,

Art can deceive, or hunger force my taste,

But pedants’ motley tongue, soldiers’ bombast,

Mountebanks’ drug-tongue, nor the terms of law

Are strong enough preparatives, to draw

Me to bear this, yet I must be content

With his tongue, in his tongue, called compliment;

In which he can win widows, and pay scores,

Make men speak treason, cozen subtlest whores,

Outflatter favourites, or outlie either

Jovius, or Surius, or both together.

He names me, and comes to me; I whisper, ‘God!

How have I sinn’d, that Thy wrath’s furious rod,

This fellow, chooseth me?’ He saith, ‘Sir,

I love your judgment; whom do you prefer,

For the best linguist?’ And I sillily

Said, that I thought Calepine’s dictionary.

‘Nay, but of men, most sweet Sir;’ Beza then,

Some Jesuits, and two reverend men

Of our two Academies I named. Here

He stopped me, and said; ‘Nay, your apostles were

Good pretty linguists, and so Panurge was;

Yet a poor gentleman all these may pass

By travel.’ Then, as if he would have sold

His tongue, he praised it, and such wonders told,

That I was fain to say, ‘If you’d lived, sir,

Time enough to have been interpreter

To Babel’s bricklayers, sure the tower had stood.’

He adds, ‘If of court life you knew the good,

You would leave loneness.’ I said, ‘Not alone

My loneness is; but Spartan’s fashion,

To teach by painting drunkards, doth not taste

Now; Aretine’s pictures have made few chaste;

No more can princes’ courts—though there be few

Better pictures of vice—teach me virtue.’

He, like to a high-stretched lute-string, squeak’d, ‘O sir,

’Tis sweet to talk of kings.’ ‘At Westminster,’

Said I, ‘the man that keeps the abbey tombs,

And for his price doth with whoever comes

Of all our Harrys and our Edwards talk,

From king to king, and all their kin can walk.

Your ears shall hear nought but kings; your eyes meet

Kings only; the way to it is King’s street.’

He smack’d and cried, ‘He’s base, mechanic, coarse,

So are all your Englishmen in their discourse.

Are not your Frenchmen neat? Mine, as you see,

I have but one, sir, look—he follows me.’

‘Certes they’re neatly clothed. I of this mind am,

Your only wearing is your grogaram.’

‘Not so, sir, I have more.’ Under this pitch

He would not fly; I chafed him. But as itch

Scratched into smart, and as blunt iron ground

Into an edge, hurts worse; so I, fool, found

Crossing hurt me. To fit my sullenness,

He to another key his style doth dress,

And asks, ‘What news?’ I tell him of new plays.

He takes my hand, and as a still which stays

A semi-breve, ’twixt each drop, he niggardly,

As loth to enrich me, so tells many a lie,

More than ten Holinsheds, or Halls, or Stows,

Of trivial household trash. He knows; he knows

When the Queen frown’d, or smiled, and he knows what

A subtle statesman may gather of that;

He knows who loves whom; and who by poison

Hastes to an office’s reversion;

He knows who hath sold his land, and now doth beg

A licence, old iron, boots, shoes, and egg-

Shells to transport; shortly boys shall not play

At span-counter, or blow-point, but shall pay

Toll to some courtier; and wiser than all us,

He knows what lady is not painted. Thus

He with home meats cloys me. I belch, spew, spit,

Look pale and sickly, like a patient, yet

He thrusts on more; and as he’d undertook

To say Gallo-Belgicus without book,

Speaks of all states and deeds that have been since

The Spaniards came, to the loss of Amiens.

Like a big wife, at sight of loathèd meat,

Ready to travail, so I sigh and sweat

To hear this Macaron talk. In vain; for yet,

Either my humour, or his own to fit,

He, like a privileged spy, whom nothing can

Discredit, libels now ’gainst each great man.

He names a price for every office paid;

He saith, our wars thrive ill, because delay’d;

That offices are entail’d, and that there are

Perpetuities of them, lasting as far

As the last day; and that great officers

Do with the pirates share, and Dunkirkers.

Who wastes in meat, in clothes, in horse, he notes;

Who loves whores, who boys, and who goats.

I more amazed than Circe’s prisoners, when

They felt themselves turn beasts, felt myself then

Becoming traitor, and methought I saw

One of our giant statutes ope his jaw

To suck me in, for hearing him I found

That as burnt venom lechers do grow sound

By giving others their sores, I might grow

Guilty, and he free; therefore I did show

All signs of loathing; but since I am in,

I must pay mine and my forefathers’ sin

To the last farthing. Therefore to my power

Toughly and stubbornly I bear this cross; but th’ hour

Of mercy now was come; he tries to bring

Me to pay a fine to ’scape his torturing,

And says, ‘Sir, can you spare me’—I said, ‘Willingly’;

‘Nay, sir, can you spare me a crown’? Thankfully I

Gave it, as ransom; but as fiddlers, still,

Though they be paid to be gone, yet needs will

Thrust one more jig upon you; so did he

With his long complimental thanks vex me.

But he is gone, thanks to his needy want,

And the prerogative of my crown; scant

His thanks were ended, when I—which did see

All the court fill’d with more strange things than he—

Ran from thence with such, or more haste than one

Who fears more actions doth haste from prison.

At home, in wholesome solitariness,

My piteous soul began the wretchedness

Of suitors at court to mourn, and a trance

Like his, who dreamt he saw hell, did advance

Itself o’er me; such men as he saw there,

I saw at court, and worse, and more. Low fear

Becomes the guilty, not th’ accuser; then

Shall I, none’s slave, of high-born or raised men

Fear frowns? and, my mistress Truth, betray thee

To huffing, braggart, puffed nobility?

No, no; thou which since yesterday hast been

Almost about the whole world, hast thou seen,

O sun, in all thy journey, vanity

Such as swells the bladder of our court? I

Think he which made your waxen garden, and

Transported it, from Italy, to stand

With us at London, flouts our courtiers, for

Just such gay painted things, which no sap nor

Taste have in them, ours are; and natural

Some of the stocks are, their fruits bastard all.

’Tis ten a-clock and past; all whom the mews,

Baloun, tennis, diet, or the stews

Had all the morning held, now the second

Time made ready that day, in flocks are found

In the presence, and aye—God pardon me—

As fresh and sweet their apparels be, as be

The fields they sold to buy them. ‘For a king

Those hose are,’ cry the flatterers; and bring

Them next week to the theatre to sell.

Wants reach all states. Meseems they do as well

At stage as court; all are players; whoe’er looks

—For themselves dare not go—o’er Cheapside books

Shall find their wardrobe’s inventory. Now,

The ladies come. As pirates, which do know

That there came weak ships fraught with cochineal,

The men board them; and praise, as they think, well

Their beauties; they, the men’s wits; both are bought.

Why good wits ne’er wear scarlet gowns, I thought

This cause; These men men’s wits for speeches buy,

And women buy all reds which scarlets dye.

He called her beauty lime-twigs, her hair net;

She fears her drugs ill laid, her hair loose set.

Would not Heraclitus laugh to see Macrine

From hat to shoe himself at door refine,

As if the presence were a mosque; and lift

His skirts and hose, and call his clothes to shrift,

Making them confess, not only mortal

Great stains and holes in them, but venial

Feathers and dust, wherewith they fornicate;

And then by Durer’s rules survey the state

Of his each limb, and with strings the odds tries

Of his neck to his leg, and waist to thighs?

So in immaculate clothes, and symmetry

Perfect as circles, with such nicety

As a young preacher at his first time goes

To preach, he enters, and a lady which owes

Him not so much as good will, he arrests,

And unto her protests, protests, protests,

So much as at Rome would serve to have thrown

Ten cardinals into th’ Inquisition;

And whispers ‘By Jesu!’ so often, that a

Pursuivant would have ravish’d him away

For saying of our Lady’s psalter. But ’tis fit

That they each other plague; they merit it.

But here comes Glorius, that will plague them both,

Who in the other extreme, only doth

Call a rough carelessness good fashion;

Whose cloak his spurs tear, or whom he spits on,

He cares not, he. His ill words do no harm

To him, he rusheth in, as if ‘Arm, arm!’

He came to cry; and though his face be as ill

As theirs, which in old hangings whip Christ, still

He strives to look worse; he keeps all in awe,

Jests like a licensed fool, commands like law.

Tired now I leave this place, and, but pleased so

As men from gaols to execution go,

Go through the great chamber—why is it hung

With the seven deadly sins?—being among

Those Ascaparts, men big enough to throw

Charing Cross for a bar, men that do know

No token of worth but ‘Queen’s man,’ and fine

Living, barrels of beef, flagons of wine,

I shook like a spied spy. Preachers, which are

Seas of wits and arts, you can, then dare

Drown the sins of this place, for, for me,

Which am but a scant brook, it enough shall be

To wash the stains away. Although I yet

With Machabee’s modesty the known merit

Of my work lessen; yet some wise man shall,

I hope, esteem my writs canonical.