Helen Gardner (ed.), John Donne: The Elegies and The Songs and Sonnets

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pg 59The Exstasie

  • 1Where, like a pillow on a bed,
  • 2A Pregnant banke swel'd up, to rest
  • 3The violets reclining head,
  • 4  Sat we two, one anothers best;
  • Editor’s Note13As 'twixt two equal Armies, Fate
  • 14  Suspends uncertaine victorie,
  • Editor’s Note15Our soules, (which to advance their state,
  • 16  Were gone out,) hung 'twixt her, and mee.
  • 17And whil'st our soules negotiate there,
  • Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus18  Wee like sepulchrall statues lay;
  • 19All day, the same our postures were,
  • 20  And wee said nothing, all the day.
  • 21If any, so by love refin'd,
  • 22  That he soules language understood,
  • Critical Apparatus23And by good love were grown all minde,
  • 24  Within convenient distance stood,
  • Critical Apparatus25He (though he knew not which soule spake,
  • 26  Because both meant, both spake the same)
  • Editor’s Note27Might thence a new concoction take,
  • 28  And part farre purer then he came.
  • Editor’s Note37A single violet transplant.
  • 38  The strength, the colour, and the size,
  • 39(All which before was poore, and scant,)
  • 40  Redoubles still, and multiplies.
  • 41When love, with one another so
  • Critical Apparatus42  Interinanimates two soules,
  • 43That abler soule, which thence doth flow,
  • Editor’s Note44  Defects of lonelinesse controules.
  • 45Wee then, who are this new soule, know,
  • 46  Of what we are compos'd, and made,
  • 47For, th'Atomies of which we grow,
  • 48  Are soules, whom no change can invade.
  • pg 61Editor’s Note57On man heavens influence workes not so,
  • 58  But that it first imprints the ayre,
  • Critical Apparatus59Soe soule into the soule may flow,
  • 60  Though it to body first repaire.
  • Editor’s Note61As our blood labours to beget
  • 62  Spirits, as like soules as it can,
  • Editor’s Note63Because such fingers need to knit
  • 64  That subtile knot, which makes us man:
  • 65So must pure lovers soules descend
  • 66  T'affections, and to faculties,
  • Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus67That sense may reach and apprehend,
  • 68  Else a great Prince in prison lies.
  • 69To'our bodies turne wee then, that so
  • 70  Weake men on love reveal'd may looke;
  • 71Loves mysteries in soules doe grow,
  • 72  But yet the body is his booke.
  • 73And if some lover, such as wee,
  • 74  Have heard this dialogue of one,
  • 75Let him still marke us, he shall see
  • Critical Apparatus76  Small change, when we'are to bodies gone.

Notes Settings


Critical Apparatus
The Exstasie. L 74, Cy omit. Printed without division into stanzas in 1633 and Grierson. First printed in stanzas by Bennett. Title from 1633, Σ Exstasie H 40, TC: An Exstacie S.
Editor’s Note
l. 6. a fast balme: either a steadfast, or a fastening, warm moisture. Cf. Othello, III. iv. 33–40, where Othello comments on Desdemona's 'moist hand': 'this argues fruitfulness and liberal heart', and Venus and Adonis, 11. 25–28:
  • With this she seizeth on his sweating palm,
  • The precedent of pith and livelihood,
  • And, trembling in her passion, calls it balm,
  • Earth's sovereign salve to do a goddess good.
Editor’s Note
ll. 7–8. Our eye-beames, &c. The debate as to whether sight was by extramission (beams from the eye striking the object) or by intramission (beams from the object imprinting an image on the eye) was unsettled at the Renaissance; see Agrippa, De Vanitate, c. 23, and Donne, Sermons, ix. 247:
No man knows so, as that strong arguments may not: be brought on the other side, how he sees, whether by reception of species from without, or by emission of beames from within.
Leone Ebreo reconciles the two views, saying that the eye transmits beams to the object but that the representation of the object on the pupil is also necessary, and that, further, the eye must direct its beam a second time to make the form on the pupil tally with the object (p. 215). This passage may have suggested to Donne his two conceits of the twisting of the beams and the reflection of each in the other's pupils.
Critical Apparatus
8 string;] string, 1633
Critical Apparatus
9 to'entergraft] to ingraft Dob, O'F, S 96, HK 2, A 25, B, JC
Critical Apparatus
10 our Σ: the 1633, C 57, H 49, B, Gr
Critical Apparatus
11 on Σ: in 1633, P, Gr
Editor’s Note
ll. 11–12. And pictures, &c. The small image of oneself reflected in the pupils of another person was called a 'baby', from a pun on pupilla. For lovers thus to 'look babies' was a common idiom.
Editor’s Note
ll. 13–16. As 'twixt two equal Armies, &c. Visually, and by the verbal link of the repeated 'twixt', the two equal armies should be the bodies between which the souls, like envoys, negotiate. The point of the simile is then simply in the word 'suspend': 'our souls hung in the air between our bodies as Victory does in an allegorical painting'. But the point of the simile may be the absolute equality and immobility of the souls: 'Just as when two armies are locked in battle so that neither can advance or retreat, so our souls hung motionless face to face in the air.'
Editor’s Note
l. 15. to advance their state: to increase their dignity.
Critical Apparatus
18 lay;] lay, 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 18. Wee like sepulchrall statues lay. I find a difficulty here. Are the lovers who were sitting holding hands and gazing in each other's eyes now lying side by side like two figures on a tomb? Or are they only like 'sepulchrall statues' in their unchanging postures?
Critical Apparatus
23 grown] growen 1633
Critical Apparatus
25 knew Σ: knowes 1633, C 57
Editor’s Note
l. 27. concoction: the process by which metals and minerals are refined by heat from an impure to a perfect or mature state. The listener will be even more 'refin'd' after he has heard the 'dialogue of one'.
Editor’s Note
l. 29. This Exstasie. In a letter, cited by Grierson, Donne speaks of ecstasy as 'a departing, and secession, and suspension of the soul' (Letters, p. 11), and at the beginning of Ignatius His Conclave writes 'I was in an Extasie, and
  • My little wandring sportful Soule,
  • Ghesty and Companion of my body
had liberty to wander through all places.' The essential notion of ecstasy is the enfranchisement of the soul which, freed from the body, obtains knowledge directly without the use of the senses or discursive reason. In his Sermons Donne is contemptuous or sceptical of such illumination; see Sermons, i. 186 and 253, vii. 334, ix. 170, x. 145–6, and:
Some men draw some reasons, out of some stones of some credit, to imprint a belief of extasie, and raptures; That the body remaining upon the floore, or in the bed, the soul may be gone out to the contemplation of heavenly things (Sermons, vi. 101).
Editor’s Note
l. 30. The lovers learn in ecstasy what is hidden from other lovers: 'what we love'. Cf. note to 'Negative Love' (p. 177); and 'A Valediction: forbidding Mourning',11. 17–18, and 'The Relic', 1. 24.
Critical Apparatus
31 sexe, ] sexe 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 31. sexe. Cf. 'The Primrose',l. 16, where Donne also uses this word in its modern sense for all the desires and impulses that arise from differentiation of sex. No earlier example is recorded in O.E.D.
Editor’s Note
l. 32. what did move: both what impelled and what attracted.
Editor’s Note
ll. 33–34. But as all severall soules, &c Leone Ebreo explains that the soul, although 'one and indivisible' has different functions and
… is not uniform, but is intermediate between the intellectual and corporeal world.… It must therefore have a nature compounded of spiritual intelligence and corporeal mutability, for otherwise it could not animate bodies (pp. 204 and 206).
For the notion that we are ignorant of the nature of our own souls, see note to 'Negative Love' 1. 15 (p. 178).
Editor’s Note
l. 35. Love, these mixt soules, doth mixe againe. Donne may mean 'As all separate souls are mixed, so the "abler soule" is made by mixture.' Or, he may be referring to a process preliminary to the union of the souls by which each is first 're-mixed' by being drawn into unity; cf. Leone Ebreo:
When, therefore, the spiritual mind,…through the force of desire, retires within itself to contemplate a beloved and desired object, it draws every part of the soul to itself, gathering it into one indivisible unity' (p. 204)
At certain times, however, the soul withdraws within itself and returns to its intellectual nature when it connects and unites with the pure intellect above it (p. 206).
Editor’s Note
l. 36. And makes both one, each this and that. It is a Neo-Platonic commonplace that love makes 'of one person—two; and of two persons—one', and that 'two persons who love each other mutually are not really two persons', but 'only one, or else four':
Each one being transformed into the other becomes two, at once lover and beloved; and two multiplied by two makes four, so that each of them is twain, and both together are one and four (Leone Ebreo, pp. 31 and 260).
Editor’s Note
ll. 37–40. A single violet, &c. Cf. the Funeral Sermon on Lady Danvers:
But in that ground, her Fathers family, shee grew not many yeeres. Transplanted young from thence, by marriage, into another family of Honour, as a flower that doubles and multiplies by transplantation, she multiplied into ten Children (Sermons, viii. 87).
This implies merely that transplantation will produce more flowers; but in the poem it is the 'strength, the colour, and the size' of the single flower that 'redoubles' and 'multiplies'.I believe that Donne is referring to the fact that transplantation will produce double from single flowers. There are many references to this in the period and some writers appear to ascribe it not to its true cause, the richness of the new soil producing a superabundance of petals, but to 'commixtion of seeds' in the earth. Some such notion of a union of single flowers to produce double flowers may be behind Donne's analogy. For references to making flowers grow double by transplantation, see Bacon, Natural History, Century VI, section 513, and Century V, section 478, Giambattista Porta, Magia Naturalis, translated as Natural Magick, 1658, p. 70, and Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie, ed. Willcock and Walker, 1936, pp. 303–4.
Critical Apparatus
42 Interinanimates Σ: Interanimates 1633, C 57, HK 2, S
Editor’s Note
1.44. Defects of lonelinesse controules: overcomes the imperfections of separateness. Cf. Paradise Lost, viii. 422–5.
  • But Man by number is to manifest
  • His single imperfection, and beget
  • Like of his like, his Image multipli'd,
  • In unitie defective…
Editor’s Note
l. 50. forbeare:avoid or shun.
Critical Apparatus
51 Theyare ours, though they'are not MSS.: They are ours, though not 1633'
Critical Apparatus
52 Th'intelligences] The intelligences 1633
spheare Σ: spheares 1633, Dob
Editor’s Note
l. 52. spheare. The singular form is necessitated by the rhyme. Leone Ebreo illustrates the love that superior feels for inferior by a long passage on the love that intelligences bear for the spheres that they govern. Cf. note to 'Air and Angels', 1. 25 (p. 205).
Editor’s Note
l. 53. thus: by the joining of hands and the interchange of eye-beams described in 11. 5–8.
Critical Apparatus
55 forces, sense H 40, H 49, TC, Dob, O'F, A 25, JC: sences C 57 HK 2: forces, since S 96, S: forces first P: senses force 1633, B
Editor’s Note
l. 55. Teelded their forces, sense, to us. The reading of 1633 ('senses force'), which has only accidental support from B, is plainly a sophistication of the misreading in C 57 ('forces sences').
The 'forces' of the body are the powers of the sensitive soul, movement and perception. These the bodies yielded up as the souls of the lovers met in ecstasy.
Editor’s Note
ll. 57–58. On man heavens influence, &c. It was a fundamental Paracelsian doctrine that the influence of the stars was mediated by the air and was the 'smell, smoke, or sweat' of the stars mixed with the air (Paramirum, 1 viii, Der Bücher und Schrifften, Basle, 1589–90, i. 15).
Critical Apparatus
59 Soe Σ: For 1633, C 57, H 49
Editor’s Note
ll. 61–64. As our blood labours, &c Grierson cites Burton:
Bloud, is a hot, sweet, temperate, red humor, prepared in the Meseraicke veines, and made of the most temperate parts of the Chylus in the Liver… from it Spirits are first begotten in the heart… Spirit is a most subtile vapour, which is expressed from the Bloud, & the instrument of the soule, to perform all his actions; a common tye or medium betwixt the body and the soul… Of these spirits there be three kinds.… The Natural are begotten in the Liver and thence dispersed through the Veins, to perform those natural actions. The Vital Spirits are made in the Heart of the Natural, which by the Arteries are transported to all the other parts.… The Animal spirits formed of the Vital, brought up to the Brain, and diffused by the Nerves, to the subordinate Members, give sense and motion to them all (part 1, sect. 1, memb. 2, subs. 2).
Cf. also:
In the constitution and making of a natural man, the body is not the man, nor the soul is not the man, but the union of these two makes up the man; the spirits in a man which are the thin and active part of the blood, and so are of a kind of middle nature, between soul and body, those spirits are able to doe, and they doe the office, to unite and apply the faculties of the soul to the organs of the body, and so there is a man (Sermons, ii, 261–2).
Editor’s Note
l. 63. need: are necessary (O.E.D., 'need', vb. I.3).
Critical Apparatus
67 That Ed. conj: Which 1633, MSS., Gr; see note
Editor’s Note
l. 67. That sense may reach and apprehend. Against the consensus of 1633 and all manuscripts I have emended 'Which' to 'That'. Copyists tend to treat the two forms of the relative as interchangeable, and I am assuming that 'Which' was substituted under the mistaken notion that 'That' was the relative and not the conjunction. The relative here gives poor sense because 'sense' does not 'reach and apprehend' affections and faculties but 'reaches and apprehends' the objects of perception by means of affections and faculties. If we read 'That:' (in order that) the action of the souls parallels the action of the blood. Cf. Leone Ebreo who teaches that the mind
…must issue from within the body to its external parts and to the organs of sense and movement in order that man may approach the objects of sense in the world around him, and it is then that we are able to think at the same time as we see, hear, and speak (p. 201).
The blood strives to produce the spirits, or powers of the soul, which are necessary to unite the intellectual and corporal in man. Conversely souls must descend to the affections and faculties of the body in order that man's sense organs may become rational.
Critical Apparatus
76 to bodies gone] two bodies growne O'F (b.c.), P: to bodies growne S 96
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