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Short poem

Thomas Carew (1595?-by 1640)

An Elegy upon the Death of the Dean of St. Paul's, Dr. John Donne

              1Can we not force from widow'd poetry,
              2Now thou art dead (great Donne) one elegy
              3To crown thy hearse? Why yet dare we not trust,
              4Though with unkneaded dough-bak'd prose, thy dust,
              5Such as th' unscissor'd churchman from the flower
              6Of fading rhetoric, short-liv'd as his hour,
              7Dry as the sand that measures it, should lay
              8Upon thy ashes, on the funeral day?
              9Have we no voice, no tune? Didst thou dispense
            10Through all our language, both the words and sense?
            11'Tis a sad truth. The pulpit may her plain
            12And sober Christian precepts still retain,
            13Doctrines it may, and wholesome uses, frame,
            14Grave homilies and lectures, but the flame
            15Of thy brave soul (that shot such heat and light
            16As burnt our earth and made our darkness bright,
            17Committed holy rapes upon our will,
            18Did through the eye the melting heart distil,
            19And the deep knowledge of dark truths so teach
            20As sense might judge what fancy could not reach)
            21Must be desir'd forever. So the fire
            22That fills with spirit and heat the Delphic quire,
            23Which, kindled first by thy Promethean breath,
            24Glow'd here a while, lies quench'd now in thy death.
            25The Muses' garden, with pedantic weeds
            26O'erspread, was purg'd by thee; the lazy seeds
            27Of servile imitation thrown away,
            28And fresh invention planted; thou didst pay
            29The debts of our penurious bankrupt age;
            30Licentious thefts, that make poetic rage
            31A mimic fury, when our souls must be
            32Possess'd, or with Anacreon's ecstasy,
            33Or Pindar's, not their own; the subtle cheat
            34Of sly exchanges, and the juggling feat
            35Of two-edg'd words, or whatsoever wrong
            36By ours was done the Greek or Latin tongue,
            37Thou hast redeem'd, and open'd us a mine
            38Of rich and pregnant fancy; drawn a line
            39Of masculine expression, which had good
            40Old Orpheus seen, or all the ancient brood
            41Our superstitious fools admire, and hold
            42Their lead more precious than thy burnish'd gold,
            43Thou hadst been their exchequer, and no more
            44They each in other's dust had rak'd for ore.
            45Thou shalt yield no precedence, but of time,
            46And the blind fate of language, whose tun'd chime
            47More charms the outward sense; yet thou mayst claim
            48From so great disadvantage greater fame,
            49Since to the awe of thy imperious wit
            50Our stubborn language bends, made only fit
            51With her tough thick-ribb'd hoops to gird about
            52Thy giant fancy, which had prov'd too stout
            53For their soft melting phrases. As in time
            54They had the start, so did they cull the prime
            55Buds of invention many a hundred year,
            56And left the rifled fields, besides the fear
            57To touch their harvest; yet from those bare lands
            58Of what is purely thine, thy only hands,
            59(And that thy smallest work) have gleaned more
            60  Than all those times and tongues could reap before.

            61      But thou art gone, and thy strict laws will be
            62Too hard for libertines in poetry;
            63They will repeal the goodly exil'd train
            64Of gods and goddesses, which in thy just reign
            65Were banish'd nobler poems; now with these,
            66The silenc'd tales o' th' Metamorphoses
            67Shall stuff their lines, and swell the windy page,
            68Till verse, refin'd by thee, in this last age
            69Turn ballad rhyme, or those old idols be
            70Ador'd again, with new apostasy.

            71      Oh, pardon me, that break with untun'd verse
            72The reverend silence that attends thy hearse,
            73Whose awful solemn murmurs were to thee,
            74More than these faint lines, a loud elegy,
            75That did proclaim in a dumb eloquence
            76The death of all the arts; whose influence,
            77Grown feeble, in these panting numbers lies,
            78Gasping short-winded accents, and so dies.
            79So doth the swiftly turning wheel not stand
            80In th' instant we withdraw the moving hand,
            81But some small time maintain a faint weak course,
            82By virtue of the first impulsive force;
            83And so, whilst I cast on thy funeral pile
            84Thy crown of bays, oh, let it crack awhile,
            85And spit disdain, till the devouring flashes
            86Suck all the moisture up, then turn to ashes.

            87      I will not draw the envy to engross
            88All thy perfections, or weep all our loss;
            89Those are too numerous for an elegy,
            90And this too great to be express'd by me.
            91Though every pen should share a distinct part,
            92Yet art thou theme enough to tire all art;
            93Let others carve the rest, it shall suffice
            94I on thy tomb this epitaph incise:

            95      Here lies a king, that rul'd as he thought fit
            96      The universal monarchy of wit;
            97      Here lie two flamens, and both those, the best,
            98      Apollo's first, at last, the true God's priest.


5] unscissor'd: with uncut hair.

7] sand: of the hourglass.

14] lectures: here, presumably sermons; usually used of short informal sermons or sermons not delivered in the regular order of church service.

22] Delphic quire: i.e., the poets; at Delphi was the shrine of Apollo, god of poetry.

23] Prometheus stole fire from heaven for the benefit of mankind.

32-33] Anacreon and Pindar were the two greatest masters of the lofty Greek ode.

36] by borrowing Greek and Latin words.

40] Orpheus: mythical Greek poet, archetype of the poet.

66] The Metamorphoses of Ovid, luxuriant and richly descriptive stories of the classical gods and goddesses, had exercised a strong influence on certain kinds of sixteenth-century poetry.

82] impulsive: impelling.

87] engross: draw up a full list of.

95] flamens: Roman priests.

96] referring to Donne's progression from secular to religious poetry.

Online text copyright © 2005, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: John Donne, Poems, by J. D. With elegies on the authors death (M. F. for J. Marriot, 1633). MICF no. 556 ROBA. Facs. edn. Menston: Scolar Press, 1969. PR 2245 A2 1633A. STC 7045
First publication date: 1633
RPO poem editor: N. J. Endicott
RP edition: 3RP 1.220-22.
Recent editing: 4:2002/2/6

Form: Heroic Couplets

Other poems by Thomas Carew