Lives Journal 8

John Donne 





(Elegie, XIX)


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 they never fight.

Off with that girdle, like heavens Zone glistering,

But a far fairer world encompassing.

Unpin that spangled breast-plate which you wear,

That th’eyes of busie fooles may be stopt there.

Unlace yourself, 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 gowne's going off, such beauteous state reveals,

As when from flowery meads th’hills shadow steales.

Off with your wiery Coronet and shew

The haiery Diademe which on you doth grow:

Now off with those shooes, and then safely tread

In this loves hallow’d temple, this soft bed.

In such white robes, heaven’s Angels us'd to be

Receav'd by men; Thou, Angel, bringst with thee

A heaven like Mahomet’s Paradise; 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, safliest when with one man mann’d,

My Myne of precious stones, My Emperie,

How blest am I in this 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. Gems which you women use

Are like Atlanta’s balls, cast in mens views,

That when a fools eye lighteth on a Gem,

His earthly soul may covet theirs, not them.

Like pictures, or like books gay coverings made

For lay-men, are all women thus array’d;

Themselves are mystick books, which onely wee

(Whom their imputed grace will dignifie)

Must see reveal’d. Then since that I may know;

As liberally, as to a Midwife, shew

Thy self: cast all, yea, this white lynnen hence,

Here is no Pennance, much less Innocence.

To teach thee, I am naked first; why than

What needst thou have more covering then a man.





(Holy Sonnets, X)


Death be not proud, though some have callèd thee

Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not soe;

For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,

Die not, poore Death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.

From Rest and Sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,

Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,

Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.

Thou'rt slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,

And poppie 'r charmes can make us sleepe as well,

And better than thy stroake; why swell'st thou then?

One short sleepe past, we wake eternally

And Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.











Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,

Which was my sin, though it were done before?

Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,

And do run still, though still I do deplore?

When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,

For I have more.



Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won

Others to sin, and made my sin their door?

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun

A year, or two, but wallowed in, a score?

When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,

For I have more.



I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun

My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;

But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son

Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;

And, having done that, Thou hast done;

I fear no more.






JOHN DONNE (London, 1572 or 1573 – ibid. 1631); English poet, lawyer, priest (Shakespeare's contemporary – High Renaissance, Baroque, beginnings of Classicism), one of the most unusual phenomena in English and world literature; from Catholic family (Welsh origin, descendant of Thomas More) at a time when in England dominated Protestantism and Catholics have been then subject to severe restrictions (e.g. the impossibility of diploma). After ending the Jesuit school he studied law and was on diplomatic missions for his noble tutors (he travelled around Europe and participated in some battles); he secretly married Anne More, the daughter of one of them (he was 28 years old, and she 17 or 14); after disclosure followed a shorter prison and retreat into the province. After passage to the Anglican church, he became priest, doctor of theology; in his last years he was well paid dean of the Cathedral of St. Paul in London and famous preacher (masterful prose, many citations became popular folk-sayings, especially »Do not ask whom the bell tolls« as the motto of Hemingway's novel). In his lifetime, he was known as a poet only in narrow circles with his manuscript poems (so called »manuscript culture«) being printed only posthumously; later, sinking into oblivion, has been marked as an odd poetaster. He was discovered once again in the 19th century, but early in the 20th the modernists with Eliot as their forefront initiated Donne's »regeneration« as a giant of English poetry. Today Donne is a cult author, his meaning grows in »kafkaskian style«, sometimes he speaks stunningly up-to-date, for some he is even the greatest poet in the English language (in the U.S., John Donne Society organizes annual symposia on him; Josif Brodsky devoted to Donne an elegy), though also remain some critical reservations (complex style, scholastic intellectuality, arrogance, machismo, cynicism, caricatured troubadourism etc.).

In any case, Donne's poetry is »difficult to read«; its idiom is complex, almost hermetic, although realistic; his baroque »multi-stage« metaphor is loaded with piercing lucidity, with his polyhistorian knowledge in the cosmic perspective, but the syntax despite its curved logical structure remains transparent, narrative flow is driven by the dramatic violent, ambivalent and sometimes playful paradoxically-humorous sharpened oppositions between physis and gnosis (a kind of »metaphysical naturalism«). There are often invocations: speaking subject addresses a specific phenomenon that challenges his rhetorical expression; in particular, there are three essential notions: Love-Death-God, written as well as other abstractions in the style of so-called »metaphysical school of poetry« with a capital initial letter and thereby they get a special allegorical dimension, always with the sound of the subtle all-corrosive irony and (self-)critical ambiguity (e.g. poems Loves War; Negative Love; Self Love).

For Donne, who is an »elusive poet«, it is characteristic a bold »metaphysical« interweaving of any contradictions in the archetypal trace from ancient cultures (cf. »holy prostitution«, especially in the temples in the Orient; Donne mentions »love's hallow'd temple« and »Mahomet's Paradise«, provocativelly in the Christian context, since the Islamic paradise is known for so-called houris; cf. also the lush erotic metaphors in the so-called Song of Songs as one of the main religious texts: in Judaism as allegory of love between God and Israel, in Christianity between Christ and the Church, etc.). The present translation attempts to be faithful to the original both in content such as in the semantic-formal regard; verse is ten-syllabic iambic pentameter with successive masculine rhymes (a few shorter verses in A Hymn to God the Father; it is probably Donne's last poem, another variant under the title To Christ). The complaint of criticism that Donne was negligent regarding metrics intonation seems affected; in English, some the same words can be read as mono- or two-syllabic (e.g. called / callèd - cf. first verse in the original of sonnet X: without accent mark the verse stays without one syllable; ibid. initial vocative usually written without comma for to »lose« its own accent: Death be not proud, ... there is also Donne's elegy with the same beginning). Taking into account these and similar characteristics of English language, Donne also in formal aspect appears as a solid classic, and Slovenian language, however, in this kind of translation tasks, demonstrates a high degree of flexibility.


Selection, translation and note about the author by Ivo Antich






Slovenian (bohorichica)

Slovenian (gajica)