For Valentine’s Day I’m sharing one of my favorite poems — John Donne’s Elegy XIX: To his Mistress going to bed. This is its second appearance in print, from the third edition of his poetry published in 1669.
The poem, denied a license for publication in the first edition, was printed first in an anthology in 1654 before taking its place alongside his other works in 1669. Visit Texas A&M’s Digital Donne website to see the entire text, as well as other early Donne books and manuscripts.
None of Donne’s poetry was printed before his death in 1631, but pieces such as this one did circulate widely in manuscript. You can read more about that, and see some manuscript examples, in a fascinating short essay at the Folger Library: John Donne’s “To His Mistress Going to bed” As an Open Source.
Elegy XIX: To his Mistress going to bed
Come, Madam, come, all rest my powers defie,
Until I labour, I in labour lie.
The foe oft-times having the foe in sight,
Is tir’d with standing though he never fight.
Off with that girdle, like heavens Zone glittering,
But a far fairer world incompassing.
Unpin that spangled breastplate which you wear,
That th’ eyes of busie fooles may be stopt there.
Unlace your self, for that harmonious chyme,
Tells me from you, that now it is bed time.
Off with that happy busk, which I envie,
That still can be, and still can stand so nigh.
Your gown going off, such beautious state reveals,
As when through flowry meads th’hills shadows steales.
Off with that wyerie Coronet and shew
The haiery Diadem which on your head doth grow:
Now off with those shooes, and then softly tread
In this loves hallow’d temple, this soft bed.
In such white robes, heaven’s Angels us’d to be
Reveal’d to men: thou Angel bringst with thee
A heaven like Mahomets Paradice, and though
Ill spirits walk in white; we easly know,
By this these Angels from an evil sprite,
Those set our hairs, but these our flesh upright.
Licence my roaving hands, and let them go,
Before, behind, between, above, below,
O my America! my new-found-land,
My Kingdom’s safest, when with one man man’d.
My Myne of precious stones: My Emperie,
How am I blest in thus discovering thee?
To enter in these bonds, is to be free;
Then where my hand is set, my seal shall be,
Full nakedness! All joyes are due to thee,
As souls unbodied, bodies uncloth’d must be,
To taste whole joyes. Jems which you women use
Are like Atlanta’s ball: cast in mens views,
That when a fools eye lighteth on a Jem,
His earthly soul may court that, not them:
Like pictures or like books gay coverings made,
For lay-men are all women thus arrayed.
Themselves are only mystick books, which we,
(Whom their imputed grace will dignifie)
Must see revealed. Then since that I may know;
As liberally, as to thy Midwife shew
Thy self: cast all, yea, this white lynnen hence
There is no pennance due to innocence:
To teach thee I am naked first, why than
What needst thou have more covering then a man.