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Songs and Sonets

John Donne

d. 1631

(An earthy, imaginative, thoughtful soul reveals his view of love, steeped in metaphor and emotion.)

Crop of Francesca da Rimini with her lover Paolo, by the Scottish painter William Dyce (1837).  This painting can be seen in the National Galleries of Scotland. Though not quite as scandalous as Paolo, who is here courting his brother’s wife, John Donne did sneak around with his master’s daughter against his will, eventually marrying her.

Donne is a master of love poetry– some say the best of them all– because he combines rich experience with deep and varied thought.  The whole person is writing here, his intellect and his heart in a powerfully effective, if strained, cooperation.  He is at once philosophical and romantic, a learned dreamer, an impassioned thinker.  On one hand these poems are often acutely emotional and physical, full of sweat and tears. Love and death are often intimately associated, by virtue of heartbreak as well as the sheer weight of true love itself. But at the same time the poems are bursting with erudite imagination, especially loose analogy and illustration (“conceits”) from physical science, alchemy, astronomy, and ancient and medieval philosophical and theological ideas. Donne sees no problem in linking his love to events and bodies of astronomic or even divine proportions. He employs so many characteristic devices, has so many surprising and intriguing perspectives, that his poems can be enjoyed just for these, even if we knew nothing of love.  But of course, love is the main thing on his mind… really the only thing on his mind.  Everything else is playing a supporting role. For those who think of Donne as the Reverend Doctor, the dean, the spiritual teacher… you will see that person here mainly in his cleverness, his breadth of education, a few metaphors, and of course his deep affinity for things spiritual.  Otherwise, here our Donne is a much more earthy bloke– here he is Jack Donne, the lover.  Then again, perhaps there is more to the continuity. The man who is first fascinated by women and drama and then later by God and church, is a man of fierce and fervent heart, seeking a worthy object of devotion.

Every second poem seems to reveal another aspect of Donne’s individuality and imagination. He talks to his own heart– even argues with it (in “Blossom”). Sometimes he’ll barge forward, almost heedless of what he’s doing with rhyme or meter, but uncannily true to the cadence of the thoughts, and of the spoken word (Donne, despite the antique language, takes well to reading aloud). Of course most distinctive about Donne is how revered, even holy a place love holds in his worldview (usually!). He does not mystify or spiritualize love to such an extent that the body is disparaged, however– in fact, he views the flesh as love’s receptacle, at least in part. Many of these poems suggest that his experience of and reverence for love led him to a belief that sex and the body cannot be viewed as evil, a refreshingly holistic view that seems far from the norm in his society, at least among the pious. However, these same poems sometimes approach idolatry of love, and you don’t have to be a puritanical ascetic to raise eyebrows at a few of the religious allusions and metaphors. Even here, however, religious readers should pause and consider the whole of his work, and appreciate the tremendous breadth of perspective on love of which he was capable. Also, reading these poems for their spiritual depth raises the interesting possibility that Donne’s experience of love might have been the vehicle by which he ultimately found the faith that we find so well described in his other works. In fact, his poem “Farewell to Love” is a turning point in these Songs and Sonets, where he realizes that there is something not quite right about his extreme reverence for love– perhaps something is missing. However, his response is reactionary: he vows to shun romance completely, a drastic turn which hardly seems warranted, and also seems to confuse the unconditional, steadfast agape love with the more emotionally charged but variable eros. But another poem, probably written around the same time, “Lecture on the Shadow”, shows that neither one extreme nor the other is the whole Donne– he does indeed understand the varieties and subtleties of love.
So in general, how do we reconcile such diversity of perspective? I hate love, I could take or leave love, I love love, I worship love…. make up your mind, Jack! Although we have to be skeptical about any attempt to put these 55 or so poems in chronological order, surely the neatest explanation is some sort of development, from the “young rake” of his early years, perhaps through a bout or two of disillusionment with love, into his more contemplative (and married) latter days. And there you have a common strategy of the literary historian, to attempt to make people as consistent as possible, at least at any given time– perhaps much more consistent than most of us humans really are. Sure it’s probably part of the story, but we also see volatility in Donne’s heart even within a single poem, and it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that he could have felt one thing one day and another thing the next. Perhaps his love, and the vagaries of its effects and attending circumstances, simply made him moody.
The experience of being jilted is common in these poems, and is often combined with a claim of disappointment at the shortcomings of women. Yes– despite his zealous attachment to love, he tends to have a poor view of women in terms of their capacity for love, and more specifically their capacity for fidelity. In consequence (at least he says it’s in consequence), he struggles with the matter of constancy himself, often coming to the conclusion of “What’s the use?”, given the inconstant nature of women. He often expresses his situation as a helpless capitulation to love, a sort of enslavement– a moth to the flame (a quip made famous by Donne’s esteemed contemporary in The Merchant of Venice, and referring, again, to love of a woman!). Donne will even work himself into a vindictive spirit against those who have done him wrong in love, reminiscent of the Psalmist’s pouts against his “enemies”, or the vengeful threats and prophecies in many modern blues songs. His harsh cynicism about women’s love is not thoroughgoing, however, for he does experience highly refined love in a soul-unifying sense with a woman (e.g., “Extasie”). If he really found women to be incapable of love as elevated as his own, he could never have written several of these poems. Here one might respond that Donne might consider women to be capable of great depth of love, but still to be incapable of constancy; but love’s eternal nature in Donne’s work casts doubt on this idea. Is it not much more likely that Donne is simply temperamental on the subject, especially when personally affected? The frailty of our psychology is never more obvious than when the subject turns to romantic love. We are never more emotionally inconstant than when we are concerned about another’s emotional constancy. In love poems that draw so directly from the frothy, primal, earthy matter of the lover’s soul, even if clad in Elizabethan intellectual finery, a certain discombobulation is to be expected.



Note that none of these poems, to my knowledge, are sonnets in any technical sense– including the single one that is explicitly designated as such. Read Songs and Sonets as more of an indication of a genre (love poems) rather than a form.

“The Flea”

-equation of the blood of two victims mingling in a flea, to sexual union-“in the flea we are married!”

“The good-morrow”

-discourse on love– its singleness of purpose, its fidelity, its security.

“Song” (a)

-complaint of the lack of fidelity in beautiful women, with cynical humor.

“Womans constancy”

-repudiation, although halfhearted, of the litany of excuses for ending marriage [I agree with Coleridge that the title is unfortunate]

“The undertaking”

-exhortation to love for inner beauty, not outer… and, what is even braver, not to cast that pearl before swine [This thought is wonderful– particularly in the light of virtue’s scarcity, in both men and women. The rare value of goodness is the best aspect of this poem.]

“The Sunne Rising”

-uses an address to the sun, symbol of time and illuminator of all, to express the great value of his true love.

“The Indifferent”

-A promiscuous narrator urges a true lover to inconstancy like his; Venus then curses the few “heretics” who are constant, with having to love the inconstant. [provoking; interesting in that it is written from the inconstant’s perspective (a device reminiscent of Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis)].

“Loves Usury”

-He would like to sow his wild oats now without falling in love. If the god of love allows him this, he will pay all back by being in love for the rest of his life, once he gets older.

“The Canonization”

-What is so bad about his and her love? Come what may, they will live and die by it. In the end, they could even be canonized in, or for, it– their love being a great, perhaps even holy, thing. [He senses the sacred in the secular, merges them, and questions the wrongness of sex].

“The triple Foole”

-He is foolish for translating his love and grief into poetry; for then it is released on the telling to wreak havoc on others’ lives.

“Lovers infinitenesse”

-He wants all of her love, even as she grows and her heart finds new ways of loving, he should participate in this with her, so they are “one another’s all”. [Provides a dynamic, vibrant perspective on love]

“Song” (b)

-He is going away for a while but will be back, and reassures his beloved. Time is a hard thing to two people in love– so they must have faith. [It is very religious, in a sense, although the religion is one of love at this point.]

“The Legacie”

-He dies every time he leaves her. His legacy (i.e., the results of a metaphysical autopsy) shows him to be true and loving, while she is fickle and gives herself to nobody in love.

“A Feaver”

-She and her beauty are like the heavens: eternal, and would destroy the world if she were ever taken from it– “the soul of the world”.

“Aire and Angels”

-He tried to love a pure spirit or idea, but this couldn’t be; likewise his love could not be properly applied to her dazzling physicality; the solution is for him to force his pure “air” love to abide within the more finite bounds of her love, “angel” love. Otherwise his love would either miss her entirely, or else drown her. [Exhibits a view of body-soul totality rather than harsh dualism, which is a much needed departure from the typical medieval view; this includes recognizing the indisputable physical aspect of love.]

“Breake of day”

-The light has come– but must the lovers part? With light, it seems, business has drawn him away from her, and for this reason business does such damage to love. [Written from a woman’s perspective].

“The Anniversarie”

-A year into their love, it is still strong– they have this undying love to look forward to for the rest of their lives, and then better still in heaven. But on earth they are like kings, because of it– and just at the beginning of their reign! [Like his other love poems (as distinct from poems about love), this is reverent, romantic, reflective, and loving.]

“A Valediction of my name, in the window”

-Donne calls upon his engraved name on his mistress’s window to remind her of him and keep her true till he returns– that is, if he doesn’t die of being apart from her first. [Shows an anxious insecurity of his lover’s constancy, but finally a realization of his mistrust. The poem also is a good example of the use of religious imagery for romantic love, indeed of the religious (sacrilegious?) importance Donne places on romantic love in these songs (but see “Farewell to love”).]

“Twicknam garden”

-His love for her goes unrequited, as he mourns thus in a garden and wishes to be made into a part of it. She is untrue in his eyes, because true to someone other than him. [He views himself a martyr, and reveals to us his deep suffering; but he takes out his frustrations on her.]

“Valediction to his booke”

-As he is abroad, from which vantage he can assess the longevity of their love, he encourages her to preserve it in the form of their letters; in this way love can be displayed to all who might benefit from such an education– even clergy, lawyers, and politicians! [Contains a bit of wit, philosophy of love, and a romantic epistle, all in one.]


-Women are a matter of taste, and are to be tried or left at will, rather than being by nature good or evil as a whole. [He worships love, but in this poem has no regard for constancy to the object of love; he portrays a superficial view of romantic attachments.]

“Loves growth”

-Love is not a simple, pure, unchangeable thing; e.g., spring makes it grow and gives it new life. [Dynamic is better than static! This is one of the saddest oversights of the typical medieval view, and so it is wonderful that Donne here breaks the old mold.]

“Loves exchange”

-a well-written and poignant address to Love; Love has besieged him, robbed him, and given nothing in return– and since he doesn’t seem to have any recourse against such an onslaught, he resigns himself to the torture.

“Confined Love”

-a complaint against the rule of fidelity in love, by an appeal to analogy.

“The Dreame”

-He dreamed of her; she became a reality and personified the dream; now she is gone, but he will dream a dream of hope for her again.

“A Valediction of weeping”

-He cries before her, and the cause gives value to his tears, as does her reflection in them. Then the globe of earth is metaphorically linked to his teardrop, and the metaphor is extended.

“Loves Alchymie”

-What is it about love that is so captivating? He will never know. It is somewhat deceptive, like alchemy… or as when men pretend they love their women’s mind, when this is a lie– women don’t really have minds. [An example, of course, of him taking out his frustrations in love on women as a whole; for another see “A Valediction forbidding mourning”].

“The Curse”

-To anyone who might divulge the identity of his mistress, he curses with all of the troubles fate, bad women, misadventure, and anything else could bring upon a man. But the curser is out-cursed anyway, if the other is right and he really does have a mistress!

“The Message”

-a simple, catchy, sad request to return his eyes and heart, unless their time with her has corrupted them– no, send them back to him anyway, so he can see and know when someone else mistreats her like she has him.

“A nocturnall upon S. Lucies day, Being the shortest day”

-His beloved has died, as the sun does in a winter night, leaving him dead– worse then dead, as if he had never existed. And unlike the promiscuous sun who will come back in spring, she will not return, and so it is perpetual nothingness, winter’s midnight.

“Witchcraft by a picture”

-He will leave her, though she cries, and will take his reflection from her eyes, lest she like a witch use his image to kill him.

“The Baite”

-a dreamy, romantic love poem likening his beautiful woman to bait and him to a fish. [A variant of poems by Christopher Marlowe and Walter Raleigh, but still great in Donne’s hands. Even with the different, much softer tone, one can still catch the typical Donnesque themes: “fishers of men” (Biblical allusion), and the hook (the pain of love).]

“The Apparition”

-He threatens to haunt her after he dies of unrequited love for her.

“The broken heart”

-A sorrowful description by extended metaphor of the heart he had broken by unrequited love.

“A Valediction forbidding mourning”

-Their true love is deeper than sighs and meager descriptions; it is of the mind and can even admit of the bodies’ absence; it is like two compasses, arrows moving in time with each other (with analogies from physical science and some sexual innuendo).

“The Extasie”

-At once romantic and philosophical, Donne tells of the wondrous soul-melding that happens when two are in love. From this he goes on to explain the role of the body as an integral but secondary part in this soul-uniting love.

“Loves Deitie”

-Cupid has gone beyond his rightful bounds of uniting lovers, and has been given too much power– even tyranny, over them. He should be unseated, so unrequited love will be no more (although he admits that not loving at all, or loving when one is already taken, are even worse, so perhaps he should stop grumbling).

“Loves diet”

-Bothered by his lack of control over his love, he rigidly disciplines, even deceives, himself, so that he can have control over his emotions like a falconer over his hunting bird. [Amusing!]

“The Will”

-He bequeaths aspects of himself as he has been taught to do by all of love’s mistreatment of him. [A rich trove of a poem, full of wit, sarcasm, and poignancy.]

“The Funerall”

-He wishes to be buried with the bracelet of hair of his beloved– for several reasons, from the petty to the sublime.

“The Blossome”

-Addressing a flower, he warns it of its mortality; then to his heart, he warns of neglect at the hands of a woman. But the heart is determined to learn the hard way.

“The Primrose”

-Five, the number of petals on the primrose, is the number of woman– more or less wouldn’t do; and by this number her hold on mankind can be deduced. [A load of medievalistic pseudoreason cypher gibberish here!]

“The Relique”

-If perchance his bracelet of his beloved’s hair is taken as a relic in future years, let it be known what miracles of platonic love it symbolized. [Another example of divine or ecclesiastical imagery, especially in the “miracles of love”].

“The Dampe”

-If she is going to slay men with her conquest of them, at least she could make the victories less hollow by refraining from enlisting the aid of her enchanting character traits and mystique, and rather be a plainer self!

“The Dissolution”

-A hitherto insoluble compound is broken apart when she dies. Now his passion grows and is unfulfilled, and like an accumulating explosive will propel his soul to catch up with hers when he dies.

“A Jeat Ring sent”

-He’ll wear a black semiprecious ring even though it reminds him of the fact that its sender’s love fell so short of golden.

“Negative love”

-His love is unfathomable even to him– but better this way than to know exactly what his love consists in; for in his ignorance he will never be dissatisfied at his failure. [very metaphysical, inspired by philosophy and theology.]

“The Prohibition”

-She should beware loving or hating him– both may do her harm by killing him. Best she do both, so neither will overpower him.

“The Expiration”

-After their last kiss, the mere words of departure could kill them.

“The Computation”

-A single day becomes 2400 years, when his beloved goes away from him.

“The Paradox”

-No one can say another loves, for both pride and an inability to judge; yet no one can say “I love”, for in loving the “I” dies.

“Farewell to love”

-He once ignorantly worshipped love; but the pleasure it gives is fleeting, so he will avoid it to the best of his ability. [A wondrous revelation, much needed turning point for Donne; but love and Eros are wrongly equated, and a too extreme, medievalistically prude reaction ensues. Eros is not a god, but neither is it a devil!]

“A Lecture upon the Shadow”

-A wonderful exhortation to keep no secrets in love, for anything withheld is like a shadow, and love must be either waning shadows or a full noon.

“Sonnet. The Token”

-He wishes a token to ease his mind: nothing will do but her assurance that she knows he loves her.

[“Self Love”]

-a light, cute poem– a woman shows in a series of paradoxes that she can love no one but herself.

Tidbits of Significance

I wonder by my troth, what thou, and I

Did, till we lov’d? were we not wean’d till then?

-“The good-morrow”


If ever any beauty I did see,

Which I desir’d, and got, t’was but a dreame of thee.

-“The good-morrow”


And now good morrow to our waking soules,

Which watch not one another out of feare;

For love, all love of other sights controules,

And makes one little roome, an every where.

Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,

Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have showne,

Let us possesse one world, each hath one, and is one.

-“The good-morrow”


What ever dyes, was not mixt equally;

If our two loves be one, or, thou and I

Love so alike, that none doe slacken, none can die.

-“The good-morrow”


No where

Lives a woman true, and faire.

-“Song” (a)


But he who lovelinesse within

Hath found, all outward loathes,

For he who colour loves, and skinne,

Loves but their oldest clothes.

-“The undertaking”


…forget the Hee and Shee

-“The undertaking”


Love, all alike, no season knowes, nor clyme;

Nor houres, dayes, moneths, which are the rags of time.

-“The Sunne Rising”


She’is all States, and all Princes, I,

Nothing else is.

-“The Sunne Rising”


Must I, who came to travaile thorow you,

Grow your fixt subject, because you are true?

-“The Indifferent”


…Loves sweetest Part, Variety…

-“The Indifferent”


She went, examin’d, and return’d ere long,

And said, alas, Some two or three

Poore Heretiques in love there bee,

Which thinke to stablish dangerous constancie.

But I have told them, since you will be true,

You shall be true to them, who’are false to you.

-“The Indifferent”


Alas, alas, who’s injur’d by my love?

What merchants ships have my sighs drown’d?

Who saies my teares have overflow’d his ground?

When did my colds a forward spring remove?

When did the heats which my veines fill

Adde one more to the plaguie Bill?

-“The Canonization”


…You whom reverend love

Made one anothers hermitage;

-“The Canonization”


I am two fooles, I know,

For loving, and for saying so

In whining Poëtry;

-“The triple Foole”


But where’s that wiseman, that would not be I,

If she would not deny?

-“The triple Foole”


…he tames it, that fetters it in verse.

-“The triple Foole”


…thy heart is mine, what ever shall

Grow there, deare, I should have it all.

-“Lovers infinitenesse”


Loves riddles are, that though thy heart depart,

It stayes at home, and thou with losing savest it

-“Lovers infinitenesse”


Then changing hearts, to joyne them, so wee shall

Be one, and one anothers All.

-“Lovers infinitenesse”


Thou art the best of mee.

-“Song” (b)


…Dear, I dye

As often as from thee I go

-“The Legacie”


For I had rather owner bee

Of thee one houre, than all else ever.

-“A Feaver”


Twice or thrice had I loved thee,

Before I knew thy face or name;

So in a voice, so in a shapelesse flame,

Angells affect us oft, and worship’d bee

-“Aire and Angels”


But since, my soule, whose child love is,

Takes limmes of flesh, and else could nothing doe,

More subtile than the parent is,

Love must not be, but take a body too

-“Aire and Angels”


Must businesse thee from hence remove?

Oh, that’s the worst disease of love,

The poore, the foule, the false, love can

Admit, but not the busied man.

-“Breake of day”


All other things, to their destruction draw,

Only our love hath no decay

-“The Anniversarie”


Who is so safe as wee? Where none can doe

Treason to us, except one of us two.

-“The Anniversarie”


‘Twere wholesomer for me, that winter did

Benight the glory of this place,

And that a grave frost did forbid

These trees to laugh and mocke mee to my face

-“Twicknam garden”


Alas, hearts do not in eyes shine,

Nor can you more judge womans thoughts by teares,

Then by her shadow, what she weares.

-“Twicknam garden”


Study our manuscripts, those Myriades

Of letters, which have past twixt thee and mee,

Thence write our Annals, and in them will bee

To all whom loves subliming fire invades,

Rule and example found

-“Valediction to his booke”


…all Divinity

Is love or wonder

-“Valediction to his booke”


For, though minde be the heaven, where love doth sit,

Beauty a convenient type may be to figure it.

-“Valediction to his booke”


How great love is, presence best tryall makes,

But absence tryes how long this love will bee

-“Valediction to his booke”


Good wee must love, and must hate ill,

For ill is ill, and good good still,

But there are things indifferent,

Which wee may neither hate, nor love,

But one, and then another prove,

As wee shall finde our fancy bent.



So, they deserve nor blame, nor praise.

But they are ours as fruits are ours,

He that but tastes, he that devours,

And he that leaves all, doth as well,

Chang’d loves are but chang’d sorts of meat,

And when hee hath the kernell eate,

Who doth not fling away the shell?



Me thinkes I lyed all winter, when I swore,

My love was infinite, if spring make’it more.

-“Loves growth”


…this medicine, love, which cures all sorrow

With more

-“Loves growth”


Love’s not so pure, and abstract, as they use

To say, which have no Mistresse but their Muse

-“Loves growth”


Love sometimes would contemplate, sometimes do

-“Loves growth”


Love, any devill else but you,

Would for a given Soule give something too

-“Loves exchange”


This face, by which he could command

And change the Idolatrie of any land,

This face, which wheresoe’r it comes,

Can call vow’d men from cloisters, dead from tombes,

And melt both Poles at once, and store

Deserts with cities, and make more

Mynes in the earth, than Quarries were before.

-“Loves exchange”


Kill, and dissect me, Love

-“Loves exchange”


And thence a law did grow,

One might but one man know;

But are other creatures so?

Are Sunne, Moone, or Starre by law forbidden,

To smile where thy list, or lend away their light?

Are birds divorc’d, or are they chidden

If they leave their mate, or lie abroad at night?

Beasts doe no joyntures lose

Though they new lovers choose,

But we are made worse than those.

-“Confined Love”


It was a theame

For reason, much too strong for phantasie

-“The Dreame”


But when I saw thou sawest my heart,

And knew’st my thoughts, beyond an Angels art,

When thou knew’st what I dreamt, when thou knew’st when

Excess of joy would wake me, it could not chuse but bee

Prophane, to thinke thee any thing but thee.

-“The Dreame”


…love is weake, where feare’s as strong as her

-“The Dreame”


So, lovers dreame a rich and long delight,

But get a winter-seeming summers night.

-“Loves Alchymie”


Hope not for minde in women; at their best,

Sweetnesse, and wit they’are, but, Mummy, possest.

-“Loves Alchymie”


Such forc’d fashions,

And false passions

-“The Message”


Study me then, you who shall lovers bee

At the next world, that is, at the next Spring:

For I am every dead thing,

In whom love wrought new Alchimie.

-“A nocturnall upon S. Lucies day, Being the shortest day”


Come live with me, and bee my love,

And wee will some new pleasures prove

Of golden sands, and christall brookes:

With silken lines, and silver hookes.

-“The Baite”


For thou thy selfe art thine owne bait,

That fish, that is not catch’d thereby,

Alas, is wiser farre than I.

-“The Baite”


Ah, what a trifle is a heart,

If once into loves hands it come!

-“The broken heart”


I brought a heart into the roome,

But from the roome, I carried none with mee;

If it had gone to thee, I know

Mine would have taught thine heart to show

More pitty unto mee: but Love, alas

At one first blow did shiver it as glasse.

-“The broken heart”


Therefore I thinke my breast hath all

Those peeces still, though they be not unite;

And now as broken glasses show

A hundred lesser faces, so

My ragges of heart can like, wish, and adore,

But after one such love, can love no more.

-“The broken heart”


As virtuous men passe mildly away,

And whisper to their soules, to goe,

Whilst some of their sad friends doe say,

The breath goes now, and some say, no.

So let us melt, and make no noise,

No teare-floods, nor sigh-tempests move,

T’were prophanation of our joyes

To tell the layetie our love.

-“A Valediction forbidding mourning”


But we by a love, so much refin’d,

That our selves know not what it is

-“A Valediction forbidding mourning”


…so by love refin’d,

That he soules language understood

-“The Extasie”


This Extasie doth unperplex

…and tell us what we love

-“The Extasie”


Because such fingers need to knit

That subtile knot, which makes us man:

So must pure lovers soules descend

T’affections, and to faculties,

Which sense may reach and apprehend,

Else a great Prince in prison lies.

-“The Extasie”


To our bodies turne wee then, that so

Weake men on love reveal’d may looke;

-“The Extasie”


That which love worst endures, discretion.

-“Loves diet”


Thus I reclaim’d my buzard love, to flye

At what, and when, and how, and where I chuse;

-“Loves diet”


Little think’st thou, poore flower,

Whom I have watch’d sixe or seven dayes,

And seene thy birth, and seene what every houre

Gave to thy growth, thee to this height to raise,

And now dost laugh and triumph on this bough,

Little think’st thou

That it will freeze anon, and that I shall

To morrow finde thee falne, or not at all.

-“The Blossome”


A naked thinking heart, that makes no show,

Is to a woman, but a kinde of Ghost

-“The Blossome”


First, we lov’d well and faithfully,

Yet knew not what wee lov’d, nor why

-“The Relique”


All measure, and all language, I should passe,

Should I tell what a miracle shee was.

-“The Relique”


If that be simply perfectest

Which can by no way be exprest

But Negatives, my love is so.

To All, which all love, I say no.

-“Negative love”


Lest thou thy love and hate and mee undoe,

To let mee live, Oh love and hate mee too.

-“The Prohibition”


So, so, breake off this last lamenting kisse,

Which sucks two soules, and vapors Both away,

Turne thou ghost that way, and let mee turne this,

And let our selves benight our happiest day

-“The Expiration”


Wee dye but once, and who lov’d last did die,

Hee that saith twice, doth lye:

For though he seeme to move, and stirre a while,

It doth the sense beguile.

-“The Paradox”


Mine Epitaph and Tombe.

Here dead men speake their last, and so do I;

Love-slaine, loe, here I dye.

-“The Paradox”


Whilst yet to prove,

I thought there was some Deitie in love

So did I reverence, and gave

Worship, as Atheists at their dying houre

Call, what they cannot name, an unknowne power,

As ignorantly did I crave

-“Farewell to love”


And when I come where moving beauties be,

As men doe when the summers Sunne growes great,

Though I admire their greatnesse, shun their heat;

Each place can afford shadowes.

-“Farewell to love”


Stand still, and I will read to thee

A Lecture, Love, in loves philosophy.

-“A Lecture upon the Shadow.”


That love hath not attain’d the high’st degree,

Which is still diligent lest others see.

-“A Lecture upon the Shadow.”


Love is a growing, or full constant light;

And his first minute, after noone, is night.

-“A Lecture upon the Shadow.”


Send me nor this, nor that, t’increase my score,

But swear thou thinkst I love thee, and no more.

-“Sonnet. The Token.”



…you’d like some poems on love that you can really sink your intellectual and spiritual teeth into;


…you’d enjoy a dose of a unique perspective on love: cynical yet reverent, passionate yet contemplative.    



(for the explorer of classic love poems:)

  • Ovid, Amores (c.20 BC).
  • William Shakespeare, Sonnets (c. mid-1590’s).
  • George Gordon, Lord Byron, Hours of Idleness (1807), or other poems.
  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850).

(for the “Metaphysical Poet”:)

  • George Herbert, poems (d.1633).
  • Richard Crashaw, Steps to the Temple (1646).
  • Thomas Traherne, Poetical Works (d.1674).
  • Henry Vaughan, poems (d.1695).

Find It!

Hardcover: The Everyman Library is unbeatable for English literature in cases where it still exists; and for Donne it still exists!

Paperback: You can’t go wrong with Penguin.  Songs and Sonets is the first section.


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