Poem introduction

Sometimes the poems of John Donne remind me of Holbein’s painting The Ambassadors, in the National Gallery in London which shows two gentlemen surrounded by all the appurtenances of early modern intellectual and mercantile exploration; the globe, a lute, a polyhedral sun dial, a Lutherian hymnbook, an oriental carpet, a celestial globe and other scientific instruments. But, while the two ambassadors stand as rather uneasy possessors of this modern complexity, John Donne seems never at a loss. Playfully, passionately, with unbelievable formal dexterity, his poems arrange these objects and perspectives in mutually illuminating patterns of the personal, the political, the mathematical, the spiritual and the cosmic. It is wit, it is comedy and often it resolves into the most beautiful simplicity. Here, his joke is at the sun’s expense.

The Sun Rising

Busy old fool, unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys, and sour prentices,
  Go tell court-huntsmen that the King will ride,
  Call country ants to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Thy beams, so reverend and strong
Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long:
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and tomorrow late, tell me,
  Whether both th' Indias of spice and mine
  Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay.

She'is all states, and all princes, I,
Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honour's mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world's contracted thus;
  Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
  To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.

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John Donne

John Donne Downloads read by Adam Foulds

1The Sun Rising


2The Flea


3The Good-morrow


4Holy Sonnets 14: Batter my heart three-person'd God


5Song: 'Sweetest Love I do not go'


6The Broken Heart