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

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pg 67A Valediction: of the Booke

  • 1I'll tell thee now (deare Love) what thou shalt doe
  • 2 To anger destiny, as she doth us,
  • Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus3 How I shall stay, though she esloygne me thus,
  • 4And how posterity shall know it too;
  • Editor’s Note5    How thine may out-endure
  • 6     Sybills glory, and obscure
  • Critical Apparatus7   Her who from Pindar could allure,
  • 8 And her, through whose helpe Lucan is not lame,
  • 9And her, whose booke (they say) Homer did finde, and name.
  • Editor’s Note10Study our manuscripts, those Myriades
  • 11  Of letters, which have past twixt thee and mee,
  • Critical Apparatus12  Thence write our Annals, and in them will bee,
  • Editor’s Note13To all whom loves subliming fire invades,
  • 14      Rule and example found;
  • Editor’s Note15     There, the faith of any ground
  • Editor’s Note16  No schismatique will dare to wound,
  • 17 That sees, how Love this grace to us affords,
  • Editor’s Note18To make, to keep, to use, to be these his Records.
  • pg 6828 Here Loves Divines, (since all Divinity
  • 29  Is love or wonder) may finde all they seeke,
  • 30  Whether abstract spirituall love they like,
  • 31 Their Soules exhal'd with what they do not see,
  • Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus32      Or, loth so to amuze
  • 33   Faiths infirmitie, they chuse
  • 34  Something which they may see and use;
  • 35 For, though minde be the heaven, where love doth sit,
  • Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus36Beauty'a convenient type may be to figure it.
  • Editor’s Note37 Here more then in their bookes may Lawyers finde,
  • Critical Apparatus38  Both by what titles Mistresses are ours,
  • Critical Apparatus39  And how prerogative those states devours,
  • Critical Apparatus40 Transferr'd from Love himselfe, to womankinde,
  • 41      Who though from heart, and eyes,
  • 42    They exact great subsidies,
  • Critical Apparatus43   Forsake him who on them relies,
  • 44 And for the cause, honour, or conscience give,
  • 45Chimeraes, vaine as they, or their prerogative.
  • Editor’s Note46 Here Statesmen, (or of them, they which can reade,)
  • Critical Apparatus47  May of their occupation finde the grounds.
  • 48  Love and their art alike it deadly wounds,
  • Critical Apparatus49 If to consider what 'tis, one proceed:
  • 50       In both they doe excell
  • 51      Who the present governe well,
  • 52   Whose weaknesse none doth, or dares tell;
  • Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus53 In this thy booke, such will their nothing see,
  • 54As in the Bible some can finde out Alchimy.
  • Editor’s Note55 Thus vent thy thoughts; abroad I'll studie thee,
  • 56  As he removes farre off, that great heights takes;
  • 57  How great love is, presence best tryall makes,
  • 58 But absence tryes how long this love will bee;
  • pg 69Editor’s Note59       To take a latitude
  • 60     Sun, or starres, are fitliest view'd
  • 61  At their brightest, but to conclude
  • 62 Of longitudes, what other way have wee,
  • 63But to marke when, and where the darke eclipses bee?

Notes Settings


Critical Apparatus
A Valediction: of the Booke. L 74, S 96, A 25 omit. Title from TC, Dob, B: omit A C 57, H 49: Valediction to his booke 16331 Valediction 3. of the Booke O'F: A Valediction of a book left in a windowe JC: The Booke Cy, P
Critical Apparatus
3 esloygne] Esloygne 1633
thus,] thus 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 3. esloygne. The spelling 'esloign' for 'eloin' was current until the mid-seventeenth century and the word remained in general currency until considerably later. Although Donne cannot be accused of archaism, the word with its legal associations has a flavour of preciosity.
Editor’s Note
ll. 5–9. François de Billon, in his famous and popular attempt to prove the superiority of women Le Fort inexpugnable de l'honneur du Sexe Feminin, Paris, 1555 (pp. 27–30), cites the ancient Sybils and in the following chapter (dsigned to prove the genius of women in invention and composition) mentions Corinna and Polla Argentaria, the wife of Lucan. The ultimate source for the triumph of Corinna over Pindar is Aelian (Var. Hist. xiii. 25) and the source for the tradition that Lucan's wife assisted htm to complete the Pharsalia appears to be a letter of Apollinaris Sidonius (Epist., 2, 10, 6).
De Billon is unaware of any tradition that a woman wrote the works of Homer. This tradition is not Latin but Byzantine. It is found in the Myrio-biblion of Photius, first printed at Augsburg in 1601 and translated into Latin in 1606, and is also referred to by Eustathius of Thessalonica in the preface to his enormous commentary on the Odyssey, printed with his commentary on the Iliad at Rome, 1542–50, reprinted at Basle, 1559–60, but not translated into Latin. It was given currency by Lipsius in the first chapter of his De Biblio-thecis Syntagma, Antwerp, 1602. Wishing to prove that the ancient Egyptians kept libraries in their temples, he refers to an accusation of plagiary that a certain Naucrates made against Homer and gives as his reference 'Eustat. in Praefat. Odyss.'. Naucrates alleged that Homer coming to Egypt found the books of a woman called Phantasia, who had written the Iliad and the Odyssey and had deposited them in the temple of Vulcan at Memphis. Homer saw them, put his name to them and published them ('Homerum igitur vidisse, sibi adscripsisse, et edidisse'). Lipsius's reference to so remote an author as Eustathius shows that the story had no currency in his day. I cannot explain why Samuel Butler ascribes it to Diogenes Laertius (Characters, &c, ed. Waller, 1908, p. 429); it is possible it may be referred to in some of the copious annotations in seventeenth-century editions of Diogenes, though I have not found it.
Unless an earlier reference to the story can be found, Donne's allusion to this striking example of female genius must date the poem after 1602.
Critical Apparatus
7 Pindar] Pindar 1633
Editor’s Note
ll. 10–18 The age of Elizabeth was a great age of antiquarian scholarship. Donne's awareness of the intellectual currents of his age can be seen in this advice to a mistress to be 'Love's Antiquary'.
Critical Apparatus
12 bee,] bee 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 13. subliming: purifying. By sublimation solids having been vapourized by heat are reconverted to solids by cooling, impurities being purged in the process.
Editor’s Note
l. 15. the faith of any ground: the orthodoxy of any fundamental doctrine.
Editor’s Note
l. 16. schismatique. The stress on the first syllable was retained until the early nineteenth century.
Editor’s Note
l. 18. Records. Love has given them grace to make, preserve, and use these archives and to be his 'witnesses'; see O.E.D., 'record', sb. I.3.c for this last: obsolete Biblical sense.
Editor’s Note
ll. 19–22.
  • This Booke, as long-liv'd as the elements,
  • Or as the worlds forme, this all-graved tome,
  • In cypher write, or new made Idiome;
  • Wee for loves clergie only'are instruments.
Against the agreement of all good manuscripts with 1633 I have emended 'writ' to 'write' in l. 21. If we preserve the past participle we must take the first three lines as an absolute clause as Grierson did, removing the semicolon after 'Idiome' and transferring it to the next line. Grierson rendered the sense as: 'This Book once written, in cipher or new-made idiom, we are thereby (in these letters) the only instruments for Love's clergy…' This misses the point of'only' which qualifies 'clergie' not 'instruments'. It also obscures the fresh point the stanza makes: that the book is to be written in a secret alphabet or secret language so that only the clergy can read it. This point seems too important to be communicated by a participle. With the emendation of'writ' to 'write' the sequence of ideas is clear and the lines are easily punctuated. She is to study, then she is to write, and further she is to write in cipher or a specially minted language. The mysteries of love are not for the profane laity.
The Book will last as long as the world or longer. The 'elements' are the matter of the world upon which form has been imposed. This form of the world is its eternal idea subsisting in the mind of the Creator. The Book is to be 'all-graved', or indelibly written. This figurative use of'graved', commonly used for what is permanently impressed on the mind or heart, seems to have puzzled scribes since the reading 'Tombe' for 'Tome' occurs sporadically in the manuscripts.
Critical Apparatus
20 tome,] tome 1633
Critical Apparatus
21 write Ed. conj., HK 2, JC: writ 1633, Σ Gr; see note
Critical Apparatus
22 instruments.] instruments, 1633
Editor’s Note
ll. 24–25
  • Should againe the ravenous
  • Vandals and Goths inundate us,
I agree with Grierson in rejecting the reading of 1633: 'and the Goths invade'. This appears to be a sophistication of the reading found in Dob, Lut, O'F, O, P, JC, S, patching their short line by the addition of the definite article. It is an example of the sporadic contact there seems to be between the copy for 1633 and the tradition in Group III. Grierson cites in defence of'inundate', Donne's reference to the 'Inundation of the Goths in Italy' (Simpson, Essays, p. 61) and refers to Isa. viii. 7–8 where the Assyrian invasion is spoken of as a river overflowing (Vulgate 'inundans'). O.E.D. cites Puttenham as its first example of this figurative use: 'the notable inundations of the Hunnes and Vandalles.'
Critical Apparatus
25 and Goths inundate H 40, C 57, H 49, TC, HK 2, Cy, B: and Goths invade Dob, O'F, P, JC, S: and the Goths invade 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 26. Universe: university. Since 'university' was frequently used for 'universe' at this period, I assume that Donne regards the words as interchangeable, although there is no example given of this use of'universe' in O.E.D.
Editor’s Note
l. 27. Angels Verse. I presume that Angels are thought of as expert in versing because of the tradition of angelic song.
Critical Apparatus
32 Or, … amuze] Or … amuze, 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 32. amuze: puzzle.
Critical Apparatus
36 Beauty'a] Beauty a 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 36. type: the earthly counterpart of a heavenly reality which it 'figures' or represents.
Editor’s Note
ll. 37–45. Here more then in their books, &c. Donne sat in the Parliament of 1601 in which discontent over monopolies, patents, and privileges reached its height. There was strong pressure to bring all such grants to the test of the Common Law. This was as strongly opposed by those who argued that this would touch the royal prerogative. The same clash arose over subsidies, special grants levied in time of need, which it was claimed were also a matter of prerogative. See J. E. Neale, Elizabeth and her Parliaments, 1584–1601, 1957, pp. 369–93 and 411–22.
'Here, rather than in their law-books, lawyers will find what entitles lovers to the possession of their mistresses and how their rights are eaten into by prerogative, transferred by Love, as sovereign, to the race of women. Women, although they demand extraordinary payments of devotion and tears from their lovers, disappoint the expectations of those who depend on them, giving as reason the claims of honour or conscience, figments as worthless as themselves or their prerogative.'
'States' is used in its legal sense of 'the interest which anyone has in a property; right or title to a property'. It seems probable that: 'rely' is also used in an obsolete legal sense: 'to hold of, be a vassal of'. 'Forsake' is used in the obsolete sense of 'fail, or disappoint the expectations of'. Women are not accused of infidelity, but of refusing to their lovers what they have a right to expect. Since the speaker and his mistress have not restricted themselves to 'abstract spiritual love', lawyers will find in the Book 'rule and example' by which to condemn current practice.
For other allusions to the question of prerogative, see 'Love's Exchange' and 'Love's Deity' and notes (pp. 168 and 170).
Critical Apparatus
38 titles] titles, 1633
Critical Apparatus
39 those Σ: these 1633, C 57, HK 2, Gr
Critical Apparatus
40 womankinde,] womankinde. 1633
Critical Apparatus
43 relies,] relies 1633
Editor’s Note
ll. 46–52. Here Statesmen, &c. 'Here politicians … will find the essential rudiments of their profession. Neither love nor statecraft can be defined. In both present success is the criterion of excellence, and to have the reputation of strength.' Cf. 'Negative Love', 'A Valediction: forbidding Mourning', and 'The Relic' for the notion that lovers do not know what they love or what love is.
Critical Apparatus
47 grounds.] grounds, 1633
Critical Apparatus
49 proceed:] proceed, 1633
Critical Apparatus
53 their nothing C 57, TC, Dob, O'F, B: there nothing H 40, H 49, Cy, S: they nothing HK 2: there nothings JC: there something 1633, P
Editor’s Note
ll. 53–54.
  • In this thy booke, such will their nothing see,
  • As in the Bible some can finde out Alchimy.
I regard the agreement of O and P with 1633 in reading 'there something' as coincidental. It is an obvious sophistication of an at first sight difficult reading.
Statesmen will find their own 'nothing' in the 'nothing' of the lovers in the same way as Alchemists find support for their doctrines in the Bible. Grierson cites
And as our Alchymists can finde their whole art and worke of Alchymy, not onely in Virgil and Ovid, but in Moses and Solomon … (Sermons, vii, 191).
He also quotes Montaigne, Apologie de Raimond Sèbond (Essays, ii. 12).
Unlike the lawyers who will use the book to establish the true laws of love, statesmen will use it to find justification for their own lack of principle and opportunism.
Editor’s Note
l. 55. vent. Cf. Twelfth Night, iv. i, where Feste mocks at Sebastian for using this word. Donne's language throughout this poem seems strained.
Editor’s Note
ll. 59–63. Grierson comments: 'The latitude of a spot may always be found by measuring the distance from the zenith of a star whose altitude, i.e. distance from the equator, is known.' He also states that the method of estimating longitude by eclipses was first discovered by noting that an eclipse which took place during the battle of Arbela was observed at Alexandria an hour later. See R. Gemma Frisius, translated into French by Claude de Bossière, 1582, for methods of calculating longitude by eclipses.
Grierson rightly observes that the comparison 'rests on a purely verbal basis. "Longitude" means "length", "latitude", "breadth". Therefore longitude is compared with the duration of love. … There is no real appropriateness.'
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