John Donne

English poet and cleric (1572–1631)

John Donne (22 January 157231 March 1631) was a Jacobean metaphysical poet. His works include sonnets, love poetry, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs, and sermons.

Any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.


No man is an Island.
Though Truth and Falsehood be
Near twins, yet Truth a little elder is.
I have done one braver thing
Than all the Worthies did;
And yet a braver thence doth spring,
Which is to keep that hid.
  • Though Truth and Falsehood be
    Near twins, yet Truth a little elder is.
    • Satyre III (c. 1598)
  • On a huge hill, Cragged and steep, Truth stands,
    and hee that will Reach her, about must, and about must goe;
    And what the hills suddenness resists, winne so;
    Yet strive so, that before age, deaths twilight, Thy Soule rest,
    for none can worke in that night.
    • Satyre III (c. 1598)
  • Go and catch a falling star,
    Get with child a mandrake root,
    Tell me where all past years are,
    Or who cleft the Devil's foot,
    Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
    Or to keep off envy's stinging,
    And find
    What wind
    Serves to advance an honest mind.
    • Song (Go and Catch a Falling Star), stanza 1
  • And swear
    No where
    Lives a woman true and fair.
    If thou find'st one, let me know,
    Such a pilgrimage were sweet;
    Yet do not, I would not go,
    Though at next door we might meet,
    Though she were true, when you met her,
    And last, till you write your letter,
    Yet she
    Will be
    False, ere I come, to two, or three.
    • Song (Go and Catch a Falling Star), stanzas 2-3
  • I have done one braver thing
    Than all the Worthies did;
    And yet a braver thence doth spring,
    Which is to keep that hid.
    • The Undertaking, stanza 1
  • But he who loveliness within
    Hath found, all outward loathes,
    For he who color loves, and skin,
    Loves but their oldest clothes.
    • The Undertaking, stanza 4
  • And dare love that, and say so too,
    And forget the He and She.
    • The Undertaking, stanza 5
  • Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
    Why dost thou thus,
    Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
    Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
    • The Sun Rising, stanza 1
  • Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,
    Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
    • The Sun Rising, stanza 1
  • She is all states, and all princes, I,
    Nothing else is.
    • The Sun Rising, stanza 3
  • For God's sake hold your tongue, and let me love.
    • The Canonization, stanza 1
  • The Phoenix riddle hath more wit
    By us, we two being one, are it.
    So to one neutral thing both sexes fit,
    We die and rise the same, and prove
    Mysterious by this love.
    • The Canonization, stanza 3
  • As well a well-wrought urn becomes
    The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs.
    • The Canonization, stanza 4
  • I am two fools, I know,
    For loving, and for saying so
    In whining poetry.
    • The Triple Fool, stanza 1
  • Who are a little wise, the best fools be.
    • The Triple Fool, stanza 2
  • Sweetest love, I do not go,
    For weariness of thee,
    Nor in hope the world can show
    A fitter love for me;
    But since that I
    Must die at last, 'tis best,
    To use my self in jest
    Thus by feigned deaths to die.
    • Song (Sweetest Love, I Do Not Go), stanza 1
  • Yesternight the sun went hence,
    And yet is here today.
    • Song (Sweetest Love, I Do Not Go), stanza 2
  • But think that we
    Are but turned aside to sleep.
    • Song (Sweetest Love, I Do Not Go), stanza 5
  • When I died last, and dear, I die
    As often as from thee I go.
    • The Legacy, stanza 1
  • Oh do not die, for I shall hate
    All women so, when thou art gone.
    • A Fever, stanza 1
  • Twice and thrice had I loved thee,
    Before I knew thy face or name.
    • Air and Angels, stanza 1
  • 'Tis true, 'tis day; what though it be?
    O wilt thou therefore rise from me?
    Why should we rise, because 'tis light?
    Did we lie down, because 'twas night?
    Love which in spite of darkness brought us hither
    Should in despite of light keep us together.
    • Break of Day, stanza 1
  • All Kings, and all their favorites,
    All glory of honors, beauties, wits
    The sun itself, which makes times, as they pass,
    Is elder by a year, now, than it was
    When thou and I first one another saw:
    All other things, to their destruction draw,
    Only our love hath no decay;
    This, no tomorrow hath, nor yesterday,
    Running, it never runs from us away,
    But truly keeps his first, last, everlasting day.
    • The Anniversary, stanza 1
  • Let us love nobly, and live, and add again
    Years and years unto years, till we attain
    To write threescore: this is the second of our reign.
    • The Anniversary, last stanza
  • Send home my long strayed eyes to me,
    Which (Oh) too long have dwelt on thee.
    • The Message, stanza 1
  • The world's whole sap is sunk:
    The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
    Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
    Dead and interred; yet all these seem to laugh,
    Compared with me, who am their epitaph.
    • A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day, stanza 1
  • For I am every dead thing,
    In whom love wrought new alchemy.
    For his art did express
    A quintessence even from nothingness,
    From dull privations, and lean emptiness
    He ruined me, and I am re-begot
    Of absence, darkness, death; things which are not.
    • A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day, stanza 2
  • Come live with me, and be my love,
    And we will some new pleasures prove
    Of golden sands, and crystal brooks,
    With silken lines, and silver hooks.
    • The Bait, stanza 1
  • Dull sublunary lovers' love
    (Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
    Absence, because it doth remove
    Those things which elemented it.
    • A Valediction Forbidding Mourning, stanza 4
  • Our two souls therefore which are one,
    Though I must go, endure not yet
    A breach, but an expansion,
    Like gold to airy thinness beat.
    • A Valediction Forbidding Mourning, stanza 6
  • If they be two, they are two so
    As stiff twin compasses are two,
    Thy soul the fixed foot, makes no show
    To move, but doth, if the other do.
    • A Valediction Forbidding Mourning, stanza 7
  • Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
    Our eyes, upon one double string;
    So to entergraft our hands, as yet
    Was all the means to make us one,
    And pictures in our eyes to get
    Was all our propagation.
    • The Ecstasy, line 7
  • We then, who are this new soul, know
    Of what we are composed and made,
    For the' atomies of which we grow
    Are souls, whom no change can invade.
    But oh alas, so long, so far,
    Our bodies why do we forbear?
    They're ours, though they're not we; we are
    The intelligences, they the spheres.
    • The Ecstasy, line 45
  • That subtle knot which makes us man:
    So must pure lovers' souls descend
    T' affections, and to faculties,
    Which sense may reach and apprehend,
    Else a great Prince in prison lies.
    • The Ecstasy, line 64
  • Love's mysteries in souls do grow,
    But yet the body is his book.
    • The Ecstasy, line 71
  • I long to talk with some old lover's ghost,
    Who died before the god of love was born.
    • Love's Deity, stanza 1
  • To rage, to lust, to write to, to commend,
    All is the purlieu of the god of love.
    • Love's Deity, stanza 3
  • Who ever comes to shroud me, do not harm
    Nor question much
    That subtle wreath of hair, which crowns my arm;
    The mystery, the sign you must not touch,
    For 'tis my outward soul,
    Viceroy to that, which then to heaven being gone,
    Will leave this to control,
    And keep these limbs, her provinces, from dissolution.
    • The Funeral, stanza 1
  • A bracelet of bright hair about the bone.
    • The Relic, stanza 1
  • Take heed of loving me.
    • The Prohibition, stanza 1
  • So, so, break off this last lamenting kiss,
    Which sucks two souls, and vapors both away.
    • The Expiration, stanza 1
  • Ah cannot we
    As well as cocks and lions jocund be,
    After such pleasures?
    • Farewell to Love, stanza 3
  • Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls;
    For, thus friends absent speak.
    • Verse Letter to Sir Henry Wotton, written before April 1598, line 1
  • And new philosophy calls all in doubt,
    The element of fire is quite put out;
    The sun is lost, and the earth, and no man's wit,
    Can well direct him where to look for it.
    And freely men confess that this world's spent,
    When in the planets, and the firmament
    They seek so many new; then see that this
    Is crumbled out again to his atomies.
    'Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone;
    All just supply, and all relation:
    Prince, subject, Father, Son, are things forgot.
    • An Anatomy of the World, The First Anniversary
  • We understood
    Her by her sight; her pure, and eloquent blood
    Spoke in her cheeks, and so distinctly wrought,
    That one might almost say, her body thought.
    • Of the Progress of the Soul, The Second Anniversary
  • Since I am coming to that holy room,
    Where, with thy choir of saints forevermore,
    I shall be made thy music; as I come
    I tune the instrument here at the door,
    And what I must do then, think here before.
    • Hymn to God My God, in My Sickness, stanza 1
  • Whilst my physicians by their love are grown
    Cosmographers, and their map, who lie
    Flat on this bed.
    • Hymn to God My God, in My Sickness, stanza 2
  • When my mouth shall be filled with dust, and the worm shall feed, and feed sweetly upon me, when the ambitious man shall have no satisfaction if the poorest alive tread upon him, nor the poorest receive any contentment in being made equal to princes, for they shall be equal but in dust.
    • XXVI Sermons, No. 26, Death's Duel, last sermon, February 15, 1631
  • Absence, hear thou my protestation
    Against thy strength,
    Distance, and length;
    Do what thou canst for alteration
    • Poem Present in Absence [1]
    • Attribution likely but not proven [2]


  • Love built on beauty, soon as beauty, dies.
    • No. 2, The Anagram, line 27
  • Nature's lay idiot, I taught thee to love.
    • No. 7, Nature's Lay Idiot, line 1
  • No spring, nor summer beauty hath such grace,
    As I have seen in one autumnal face.
    • No. 9, The Autumnal, line 1
  • The heavens rejoice in motion, why should I
    Abjure my so much loved variety.
    • No. 17, Variety, line 1
  • Who ever loves, if he do not propose
    The right true end of love, he's one that goes
    To sea for nothing but to make him sick.
    • No. 18, Love's Progress, line 1
  • The Sestos and Abydos of her breasts
    Not of two lovers, but two loves the nests.
    • No. 18, Love's Progress, line 61
  • Those set our hairs, but these our flesh upright.
    • No. 19, To His Mistress Going to Bed, line 24
  • O my America! my new-found land.
    • No. 19, To His Mistress Going to Bed, line 27
  • Full nakedness! All joys are due to thee,
    As souls unbodied, bodies unclothed must be,
    To taste whole joys.
    • No. 19, To His Mistress Going to Bed, line 33
  • Licence my roving hands, and let them go
    Before, behind, between, above, below.
    O, my America, my Newfoundland
    My kingdom, safest when with one man mann's,
    My mine of precious stones, my empery;
    How am I blest in thus discovering thee !
    To enter in these bonds, is to be free ;
    Then, where my hand is set, my soul shall be."
    • No. 19, To His Mistress Going to Bed

Songs and Sonnets (1633)

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved?
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.
  • I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
    Did, till we loved?
    Were we not weaned till then?
    But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
    Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?
    ’Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.
    If ever any beauty I did see,
    Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.

    And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
    Which watch not one another out of fear;
    For love, all love of other sights controls,
    And makes one little room an everywhere.

    Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
    Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,
    Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.

    My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
    And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
    Where can we find two better hemispheres,
    Without sharp north, without declining west?
    Whatever dies, was not mixed equally;
    If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
    Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.

  • At the round earth's imagin'd corners, blow
    Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise

    From death, you numberless infinities
    Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go.
    • No. 7, line 1
  • All whom war, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
    Despair, law, chance, hath slain.
    • No. 7, line 6
  • If poisonous minerals, and if that tree,
    Whose fruit threw death on else immortal us,
    If lecherous goats, if serpents envious
    Cannot be damned; alas; why should I be?
    • No. 9, line 1
  • Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
    Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so,

    For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
    Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
    • No. 10, line 1
  • Thou'rt slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
    And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
    And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
    And better than thy stroke.
    • No. 10, line 9
  • One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
    And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
    • No. 10, line 13
  • What if this present were the world's last night?
    • No. 13, line 1
  • Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you
    As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend.
    • No. 14, line 1
  • Show me, dear Christ, Thy spouse, so bright and clear.
    • No. 18, line 1
  • Variable, and therefore miserable condition of man; this minute I was well, and am ill, this minute.
    • I. Insultus Morbi Primus; The first alteration, the first grudging of the sickness.
  • Man, who is the noblest part of the earth, melts so away as if he were a statue, not of earth, but of snow.
    • II. Actio Læsa; The strength, and the functions of the senses, and other faculties change and fail.
  • It is too little to call man a little world, except God, man is a diminutive to nothing. Man consists of more pieces, more parts, than the world; than the world doth, nay, than the world is.
    • IV. Medische Vocatur The physician is sent for
  • Enlarge this meditation upon this great world, man, so far, as to consider the immensity of the creatures this world produces; our creatures are our thoughts, creatures that are born giants; that reach from east to west, from earth to heaven, that do not only bestride all the sea and land, but span the sun and firmament at once; my thoughts reach all, comprehend all. Inexplicable mystery; I their creator am in a close prison, in a sick bed, anywhere, and any one of my creatures, my thoughts, is with the sun, and beyond the sun, overtakes the sun, and overgoes the sun in one pace, one step, everywhere.
    • IV. Medische Vacatures; The physician is sent for.
  • And then as the other world produces serpents, and vipers, malignant, and venomous creatures, and worms, and caterpillars, that endeavour to devour that world produces them, and monsters compiled and complicated of diverse parents, and kinds, so this world, ourselves produces all these in us, in producing diseases and sicknesses of all those sorts; venomous and infectious diseases, feeding and consuming diseases...
    • IV. Medische Vocatur; The physician is sent for.
  • I observe the physician, with the same diligence, as he the disease; I see he fears, and I fear with him...
    • VI. Metuit. The physician is afraid
  • A man that is not afraid of a Lion is afraid of a Cat; not afraid of starving, and yet is afraid of some joint of meat at the table, presented to feed him; not afraid of the sound of drums, and trumpets, and shot, and those, which they seek to drown, the last cries of men, and is afraid of some particular harmonious instrument; so much afraid, as that with any of these the enemy might drive this man, otherwise valiant enough, out of the field.
    • VI. Metuit. The physician is afraid
  • I know not what fear is, nor I know not what it is that I fear now; I fear not the hastening of my death, and yet I do fear the increase of the disease... my weakness is from nature, who hath but her measure, my strength is from God, who possesses and distributes infinitely.
    • VI. Metuit. The physician is afraid
  • Age is a sickness, and Youth is an ambush.
    • Meditation 7
  • Let not one bring Learning, another Diligence, another Religion, but every one bring all.
    • Meditation 7
  • I do nothing upon myself, and yet am mine own executioner.
    • Meditation 12
  • The flea, though he kill none, he does all the harm he can.
    • Meditation 12
  • He drinks misery, and he tastes happiness; he mows misery, and he gleaned happiness; he journeys in misery, he does but walked in happiness.
    • Meditation 13
  • How deep do we dig, and for how coarse gold?
    • Meditation 13
  • No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod be washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lessee, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Manner of thy friends or of thine owne were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
    • Modern version: No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
    • Meditation 17. This was the source for the title of Ernest Hemingway's novel.

LXXX Sermons (1640)

Main article: LXXX Sermons
  • What gnashing is not a comfort, what gnawing of the worm is not a tickling, what torment is not a marriage bed to this damnation, to be secluded eternally, eternally, eternally from the sight of God?
    • No. 76, preached to the Earl of Carlisle, c. autumn 1622
  • Now God comes to thee, not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of the spring, but as the sun at noon to illustrate all shadows, as the sheaves in harvest, to fill all penuries, all occasions invite his mercies, and all times are his seasons.
    • No. 3, preached on Christmas Day, 1625
  • I throw myself down in my chamber, and I call in and invite God and his angels thither, and when they are there, I neglect God and his angels, for the noise of a fly, for the rattling of a coach, for the whining of a door.
    • No. 80, preached at the funeral of Sir William Cokayne, December 12, 1626
  • And what is so intricate, so entangling as death? Who ever got out of a winding sheet?
    • No. 54, preached to the King at Whitehall, April 5, 1628
  • Poor intricated soul! Riddling, perplexed, labyrinthian soul!
    • No. 48, preached upon the Day of St. Paul's Conversion, January 25, 1629
  • When God's hand is bent to strike, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God; but to fall out of the hands of the living God is a horror beyond our expression, beyond our imagination.


  • He was the Word, that spake it:
    He took the bread and brake it;
    And what that Word did make it,
    I do believe and take it.
    • Divine Poems, "On the Sacrament"; attributed by many writers to Elizabeth I. It is not in the original edition of Donne, but first appears in the edition of 1654, p. 352.

Quotes about John Donne

To read Dryden, Pope, &c., you need only count syllables; but to read Donne you must measure time, and discover the time of each word by the sense of passion. ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • To read Dryden, Pope, &c., you need only count syllables; but to read Donne you must measure time, and discover the time of each word by the sense of passion.
  • I have heard it said, by the way, that Donne's intolerable defect of ear grew out of his own baptismal name, when harnessed to his own surname -- John Donne. No man, it was said, who had listened to this hideous jingle from childish years, could fail to have his genius for discord, and the abominable in sound, improved to the utmost.
    • Thomas De Quincey, Literary Reminiscences: From The Autobiography of an English Opium-eater (1851)
  • His writings, like his actions, were faulty, violent, a little morbid even, and abnormal. He was not, and did not attempt to be, an average man. But actions and writings alike, in their strangeness and aloofness, were unadulterated by a tinge of affectation.
  • Donne is the most inharmonious of our versifiers, if he can be said to have deserved such a name by lines too rugged to seem metre. Of his earlier poems many are very licentious; the later are chiefly devout. Few are good for much; the conceits have not even the merit of being intelligible; it would perhaps be difficult to select three passages that we should care to read again.
    • Henry Hallam, Introduction to the Literature of Europe (1864)
  • think: poems fixed this landscape: Blake, Donne, Keats
  • Donne, more than any other of his lifetime, understood that flair is its own kind of truth: if you want to make your point, make it so vivid and strange that it cuts straight throughyour interlocutor's complacent attention. To read his verse is to hear him insist, across the gap of hundreds of years: for God's sake, will you listen.
    • Katherine Rundell
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