Helen Gardner (ed.), John Donne: The Elegies and The Songs and Sonnets
- Editor’s Note1Whilst yet to prove,
- Critical Apparatus2I thought there was some Deitie in love,
- 3 So did I reverence, and gave
- 4Worship, as Atheists at their dying houre
- 5Call, what they cannot name, an unknowne power
- 6 As ignorantly did I crave:
- Editor’s Note7 Thus when
- 8Things not yet knowne are coveted by men,
- 9Our desires give them fashion, and so
- Critical Apparatus10As they waxe lesser, fall, as they sise, grow.
- Editor’s Note11 But, from late faire
- 12His highnesse sitting in a golden Chaire,
- 13 Is not lesse cared for after three dayes
- 14By children, then the thing which lovers so
- 15Blindly admire, and with such worship wooe;
- Editor’s Note16 Being had, enjoying it decayes:
- 17 And thence,
- Editor’s Note18What before pleas'd them all, takes but one sense.
- Editor’s Note19And that so lamely, as it leaves behinde
- 20A kinde of sorrowing dulnesse to the minde.
- 21 Ah cannot wee,
- Editor’s Note22As well as Cocks and Lyons jocund be,
- Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus23 After such pleasures? Unlesse wise
- 24Nature decreed (since each such Act, they say,
- 25Diminisheth the length of life a day)
- 26 This; as shee would man should despise
- 27 The sport,
- 28Because that other curse of being short,
- Critical Apparatus29And onely for a minute, made to be
- 30Eager, desires to raise posterity.
- pg 83Editor’s Note31 Since so, my minde
- 32Shall not desire what no man else can finde,
- 33 I'll no more dote and runne
- Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus34To pursue things which had, indammage me.
- 35And when I come where moving beauties be,
- 36 As men doe when the summers Sunne
- 37 Growes great,
- 38Though I admire their greatnesse, shun their heat;
- 39Each place can afford shadowes. If all faile,
- Editor’s Note40'Tis but applying worme–seed to the Taile.
Farewell to Love. In O'F, S 96: omit Σ. First printed in 1635, Title from 1635, MSS
l. 1. 'While still inexperienced.'
2 love,] love.1635
ll. 7–10. The construction makes 'desires' the subject of 'fall' and 'grow'; but sense demands that it is the 'Things not yet known' that 'fall' and 'grow' as our desires become small or increase in strength.
10 sise] rise S96
ll. 11–15. Here again the expression is clumsy. The omission of the article in 'From late faire' is unidiomatic and the sense of 'is not lesse cared for' is not immediately clear. As the child will have licked off the gilt from its fairing and eaten the gingerbread we may assume that 'after three days' it has forgotten, and cares nothing for, the object it clamoured for at the fair.
An article on moulds for gingerbread fairings, contributed to The Times (5 October 1957), contains illustrations of standing kings and queens. Its author, Mr. Edward Pinto, tells me he has several such moulds, but he has never seen one of a monarch on a throne. Most of the moulds show legendary kings or queens—nursery-rhyme or playing-card figures—but some may be representations of reigning monarchs.
l. 16. 'Once possessed, the enjoyment of it decays.'
l. 18. 'What before pleased all senses now attracts only one.'
ll. 19–20. Henry Howard writing to Edward Bruce in 1602 (Secret Correspondence, ed. Dalrymple, Edinburgh, 1766) refers to 'the rule of the philosopher that omne animal post coitum triste'. I have not been able to trace this tag in works by, or attributed to, Aristotle except in a slightly different form:
Quare animal post coitum tristatur? Respondetur, quia actus luxuriae est in se turpis et inmundus, et sic omne animal abhorret talem actum, quia homines cum super hoc cogitant, erubescunt, et tristantur (Aristotle, Problemata, 1583, p. 129; Englished in The Problems of Aristotle, Edinburgh, 1595).
l. 22. Cocks and Lyons. The belief that these animals are exempt from postcoital depressio derives from Galen. Both are 'Solares', according to Franciscus Georgius (Problemata, Paris, 1574, p. 379), and so presumably have an extra share of the sun's working vigour.
23 pleasures? Unlesse] pleasures, unlesse 1635
ll. 23–30. There have been extensive and extended discussions of the reading of ll. 29–30. Grierson added a comma after 'be' and emended 'Eager, desires' to 'Eagers desire'. He took the 'other curse of being short' to refer to the shortness of human life which sharpens ('eagers') man's desire to propagate his kind. The objection to this interpretation is that it is not the shortness of life but the fact that he has to die that, according to Aristotle, makes man beget children to satisfy his craving for immortality. The brevity of the pleasure in the act of love is so constant a theme with moralists ('Foeda est in coitu et brevis voluptas, et taedet Veneris statim peractae') that it seems obvious that the two 'curses' both refer to that act: it leaves behind it 'a kinde of sorrowing dulnesse' and what pleasure there is in it is only momentary.
For other suggestions, see Hayward, pp. 766–7, G. Williamson, M.P., 1939, pp. 301–3, and correspondence in T.L.S., May-June 1949.
My own solution is to accept the reading of the edition and manuscripts with the addition of a comma after 'minute' in l. 29. This makes 'and onely for a minute' an expansion of 'short' and 'desires' the object of 'made to be eager'. The comma between 'eager' and 'desires' is a normal seventeenth-century way of showing that 'eager' is to be taken with the verb and not with the following noun. It has been objected against this solution that (a) 'and onely for a minute' is an unnecessary repetition of the idea already expressed by 'short'; and (b) that what is made eager is the desire to repeat the act rather than the desire to have children.
Repetition is not uncharacteristic of Donne's style; see, for instance, 'The Autumnal', l. 48, where 'journey downe the hill' merely expands 'descend'. The second objection seems to me a quibble. Donne writes in The First Anniversary (l. 110) 'Wee kill our selves to propagate our kinde', meaning that we kill ourselves by indulgence in love; so here he takes the act of love as equivalent to the act of procreation and sees the brevity of the pleasure as wise nature's provision to secure the continuance of the race, as the curse of aftersorrow is her provision to ensure that men shall not destroy themselves by excessive indulgence.
For the notion that the sexual act debilitates by depriving man of 'radical moisture' see Aristotle, De Longitudine et Brevitate Vitae (466b). That each such act costs a day seems an equivalent to the popular notion that each sigh costs a drop of blood and wastes a minute of life.
29 minute,] minute 1635
29–30 be/ Eager, desires] be,/ 〈Eagers desire〉 Gr; see not,
l. 31 Since so: since it is so.
34 had, indammage S 96: had indammag'd 1635, O'F, Gr
l. 34. which had, indammage me. I have adopted the reading of S 96 which gives better sense than the pluperfect of O'F and 1635.
l. 40. worme-seed: Santonica, Semen sanctum, or Semen contra, an anaphrodisiac; see Historia generalis plantarum, Lyons, 1587, i. 941: semen contra, 'Quidam tamen exponunt quasi impediens concitationem ac venerem'.
the Taile: the penis.