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


Satire V. “Thou shalt not laugh in this leaf, Muse”

THOU shalt not laugh in this leaf, Muse, nor they

Whom any pity warms. He which did lay

Rules to make courtiers—he being understood

May make good courtiers, but who courtiers good?—

Frees from the sting of jests all who in extreme

Are wretched or wicked; of these two a theme

Charity and liberty give me. What is he,

Who officers’ rage and suitors’ misery

Can write and jest? If all things be in all

—As I think, since all which were, are, and shall

Be, be made of the same elements,

Each thing each thing implies or represents—

Then man is a world; in which officers

Are the vast ravishing seas, and suitors

Springs, now full, now shallow, now dry, which to

That which drowns them run; these self reasons do

Prove the world a man, in which officers

Are the devouring stomach, and suitors

Th’ excrements which they void. All men are dust;

How much worse are suitors, who to men’s lust

Are made preys? O, worse than dust or worms’ meat,

For they do eat you now, whose selves worms shall eat.

They are the mills which grind you, yet you are

The wind which drives them; and a wasteful war

Is fought against you, and you fight it; they

Adulterate law, and you prepare the way;

Like wittols, th’ issue your own ruin is.

Greatest and fairest empress, know you this?

Alas, no more than Thames’ calm head doth know

Whose meads her arms drown, or whose corn o’erflow.

You, sir, whose righteousness she loves, whom I,

By having leave to serve, am most richly

For service paid, authorized now begin

To know and weed out this enormous sin.

O age of rusty iron!—some better wit

Call it some worse name, if aught equal it—

Th’ iron age that was, when justice was sold—now

Injustice is sold dearer—did allow

All claimed fees and duties. Gamesters, anon,

The money which you sweat and swear for is gone

Into other hands. So controverted lands

’Scape, like Angelica, the striver’s hands.

If law be in the judge’s heart, and he

Have no heart to resist letter, or fee,

Where wilt thou appeal? power of the courts below

Flows from the first main head, and these can throw

Thee, if they suck thee in, to misery,

To fetters, halters. But if the injury

Steel thee to dare complain; alas, thou goest

Against the stream, upwards, when thou art most

Heavy and most faint; and in these labours they,

’Gainst whom thou shouldst complain, will in thy way

Become great seas, o’er which, when thou shalt be

Forced 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 men should be forced to them to go,

By means of angels. When supplications

We send to God; to Dominations,

Powers, Cherubins, and all heaven’s courts, if we

Should pay fees as here, daily bread would be

Scarce to kings; so ’tis. Would it not anger

A Stoic, a coward, yea a martyr,

To see a pursuivant come in, and call

All his clothes copes, books primers, and all

His plate chalices, and mis-take them away,

And lack a fee for coming? Oh! ne’er may

Fair Law’s white reverend name be strumpeted,

To warrant thefts; she is established

Recorder to Destiny on earth, and she

Speaks Fate’s words, and but tells us who must be

Rich, who poor; who in chairs, who in gaols.

She is all fair, but yet hath foul long nails,

With which she scratcheth suitors; in bodies

Of men, so in law, nails are extremities.

So officers stretch to more than law can do,

As our nails reach what no else part comes to.

Why barest thou to yon officer? Fool! hath he

Got those goods, for which erst men bared to thee?

Fool! twice, thrice thou hast bought wrong, and now hungrily

Beg’st right, but that dole comes not till these die.

Thou hadst much, and laws Urim and Thummim try

Thou wouldst for more; and for all hast paper

Enough to clothe all the great Carrick’s pepper.

Sell that, and by that thou much more shalt leese

Then Hammon if he sold his antiquities.

O wretch, that thy fortunes should moralize

Esop’s fables, and make tales prophecies.

Thou art the swimming dog whom shadows cozened,

And divest, near drowning, for what vanished.