Monday, February 12, 2007

John Donne, "Elegy: To his Mistress Going to Bed"

Come, Madam, come, all rest my powers defy,
Until I labour, I in labour lie.
The foe oft-times, having the foe in sight,
Is tired with standing though they never fight.
Off with that girdle, like heaven's zone glistering,
But a far fairer world encompassing.
Unpin that spangled breastplate, which you wear
That th' eyes of busy fools may be stopped there:
Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime
Tells me from you that now 'tis your bed-time.
Off with that happy busk, which I envy,
That still can be, and still can stand so nigh.
Your gown going off, such beatueous state reveals,
As when from flowery meads th' hill's shadow steals.
Off with your wiry coronet and show
The hairy diadem which on you doth grow.
Off with those shoes: and then safely tread
In this love's hallowed temple, this soft bed.
In such white robes heaven's angels used to be
Received by men; thou angel bring'st with thee
A heaven like Mahomet's paradise; and though
Ill spirits walk in white, we easily know
By this these agnels from an evil sprite,
They set our hairs, but these our flesh upright.
Licence my roving hands, and let them go
Behind, before, above, between, below.
O my America, my new found land,
My kingdom, safeliest when with one man manned,
My mine of precious stones, my empery,
How blessed 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 joys are due to thee.
As souls unbodied, bodies unclothed must be,
To taste whole joys. Gems which you women use
Are like Atlanta's balls, cast in men's views,
That when a fool's eye lighteth on a gem
His earthly soul may covet theirs, not them.
Like pictures, or like books' gay coverings made
For laymen, are all women thus arrayed;
Themselves are mystic books, which only we
Whom their imputed grace will dignify
Must see revealed. Then since I may know,
As liberally as to a midwife show
Thyself; cast all, yea this white linen hence,
Here is no penance, much less innocence.
To teach thee, I am naked first: why then
What needst thou have more covering than a man?


John Donne (1572-1631). Poem first published 1654.

To lead off this love-themed week in honor of Valentine's Day, a poem of seduction by the Metaphysical master of libidinal logic: John Donne. Donne is one of the great treasures of the English canon, one of the best poets not only on seduction and love, but also on spirituality and religion. Once you get accustomed to the manners of his phrasing (which are no more difficult than modernist or some contemporary writers) his work, though written 400 years ago, is energetic and utterly relevant.
"To his Mistress Going to Bed" is, for my money, one of the sexiest poems in English. In order to seduce his mistress, the speaker narrates such a seduction, praising her various attributes while also explaining how reasonable and right it is for her to be so liberal. His argument changes tactics several times, always with utter conviction, though the fact that the need to double-back shows that progress is not actually being made. The poem is always double-leveled, a narrated success (also of two levels thanks to the smattering of puns and double entendre) proven to be fictional by the use of its own fiction as a means of pursuing such success. The final couplet serves as an epigrammatic culmination for his cunning linguistic coercion. And yet, though all this saucy cleverness is delightful, I think the finest lines are the coyest, the direct object of his lust implied by the string of prepositions: "Licence my roving hands, and let them go / Behind, before, above, between, below."

Post your own favorite poems of seduction below!

(Read more about Donne:


Charlene said...

Here's a favorite by W. H. Auden:

Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit's sensual ecstasy.

Certainty, fidelity
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell,
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreadful cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but not from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.

Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of sweetness show
Eye and knocking heart may bless.
Find the mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness see you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.

Quotidian Poet said...

Yeah, I had thought of using that one. Thanks for posting it!

Quotidian Poet said...

Here's one I figure I'll throw in as extra - I chanced upon it earlier today in the February issue of Poetry. It's overabundant but, as you'll see, that's exactly the point.

Albert Goldbarth,
"To Be Read in 500 Years"

To think of today ... and the ages continued henceforward.
—Walt Whitman

She bring me love love love, crazy love.
—Van Morrison

If they're right, the whizkid physicist-theorist thinktank guys,
suggesting that every acted-on decision of ours produces a brachiation
in the timestream (therefore, two simultaneous independent futures:
for example, one extending from my use of "brachiation,"
one extending from my almost-use of "fork," so that
tomorrow-"b" and tomorrow-"f" are equally real in parallel
and coexistent tracks), there may be, secretly among us,
a few — or even entire populations — of backward travelers
in time from not just one, but man, "alternatomorrows,"
so different from ourselves, it's like the thought that bitch-ho' rap
and the sublimities of, say, Chopin are kind enough to both be
reproduced by variant patterns within the same 88 keys:
in one
of these futures, everything essential, every attribute of humanness
even minimally desirable, is relegated to mind alone
—we look like cumulonimboid dendrite-structures
that have flowered out of small deflated flesh-pods—
and the reproductive function of the species now
is entirely exocorporal, a matter of frozen protein combinations
and gestation-sacs of complex bioplastic;
in another
of these futures — it's an after-we-squander-the-oil-deposits world
of post-apocalyptic, bare-subsistence living — a day
is a matter of thinning, granular soil: leached,
defiant of yielding to our human need and its desperate threshing
—that, and a rumor from over up north that dog troops
of marauding goons are on the march with pillage and worse
asquirm in their eyes — and there, and then, all softness,
all of anything without "survival value," has been bred out
of the race, so "interpersonal relationship" is no more
than a reflex of the genes;
or, au contraire,
another future makes an ornate, public fetish of the wooing game
—a codified fantasia of modes of address and rank and dowry
and clan and feather-on-cloak-by-depth-of-genealogy, etc.—
to a social architecture of such overmuch extent that, while it's all
intensely focused on the establishing of a betrothal-pair, it's
all at the same time so bound up in duty and cultural sanction
as to be even more devoid of anything personal — anything soulful
and open to flutter — than the future I've described
of petro-aftershock...
and therefore none of these baffled rperesentatives
encamped in our twenty-first century can understand,
can "get," the thump, the cupid-zing, the woe and the wow,
in our songs and poems, especially the songs, especially the glowing
uranium dump that malingers all night at the bottom of the blues,
oh especially the blues, especially let her light shine down
on me, especially by the waters of Misery Avenue, let's not forget
Heartbreak Hotel, let's not eschew its transient cast
of cinders-and-ashes clientele, but also the songs of tra-la-la
and marital abidingness, of how sometimes a body fits a body
as indivisibly as waves (or it could be particles) fit light, the poems
address this too of course, the let me count the ways, the roses
in their fragrant and meaty botanical abundance, and the doves,
let's not forget the doves, the old thou art a summer's day
and thy breasts are of wheaten beauty, let's not dillydally in recognizing
the wedding under the laws of God, let's not exempt the quickie
under the snooker table, the flame in the bones, the one name drummed
in a bruising tattoo on the heartskin, they don't comprehend this sugartit thing,
this sonnet thing, this sky held in the mirror pools
of the Taj Mahal on the day of slowly promenading couples
thing, these people of the future as I've imagined them don't have
the apparatus of leisure we've had, in a special lotus of time
that's been vouchsafed to us, a mythos, a sequestering in which
this serotonin and this opium are grown to a lyric degree, they wouldn't
understand me sneaking out at 5 AM to pat that ten-dollar valentine
tenderly into place beneath the wiper-blade of Phyllis's swayback Dodge
(with the fishtaily brakes and the fanlight crack in the windshield), they
don't know the drive-in, the down at the corner, the boardwalk, the bridge,
the places where it happens and where we commemorate it, also a night
of blind and driven howling I pulled like an hours-long ebony scarf
from the deeps of my brainstem once on Morgan's lawn, so sweet
it is, this ineluctable thing, this please let one of the harder sciences objectify
the biochemical basis of our here-do-that-to-my-earlobe-another-time
thing, down by the riverside, at the gates, behind the stadium,
and Skyler my wife with the basement tiles and cowboy pajamas,
she lift me up, she bring me the dominions of the morning
and the thrones of the moon, they've never once experienced this
impossible night of her wanting him down to the vitamins
and the pepsin and the aura and the spit, and how she bring him
the molasses and the escrow and the skidmarks and the holy church,
the rock and the water, the star and the stain, together we heard
the otherworld hosannas of wind in the alders, not to mention
karaoke screech, the Gregorian chant and the triple-x rebel yowl,
it requires a certain coddled recipe of history and maybe economics
for this psychic condition, this giddiyap of the hormones
and the industry they generate, the castles and the sly deolletage,
I wanted to read her the works of Montaigne and Cervantes and Emerson
and I wanted to slip her some tongue, I was enrolled, I stayed
the course from my first day in Agony 101 to my post-doc, they will never
be burned by this ice, they will die without knowing the thirst
in this river, she bring me the spackle, she give me the flying tackle,
he build her up, he tug her plug and she drains, she becomes
a puddle of ouch, she hit me with the hoodoo, with the magic spell
and the candle, they will never know this candle, yeah
she lead me up the towpath got a diamond in my nose, she dress
in ermine and sable, she barefoot in the grass, I tossed,
I thought of words like chivalrous and serenity, I spied on her,
I wanted to kill for her, she bring me the cherry wine, the toxic waste,
the whole wheat and the half-shell, they will never eat of this fruit
and suffer its consequences, never beg for its juice, its family root,
she be my guide, she interlocutor, my Beatrice-and-Virgil (and me behind
in my Dante sandals following her shake-that-thing on the stony path),
my rash, my silty unguent, she rob him, she rock and throb him,
she greet him in his guise as the charioteer of the sun in its vast
celestial passage, in the centuries forthcoming they will never know
this honeycomb of confusion and its confected delight, it happens
in the jazz bar, at the casbah, in the synagogue, under the sheets,
she lift me higher, she be my desire, she build me, she give me,
in the sand dunes, hot hot summer, on the roof, yes here, now here,
a little lower, she feed me, she give me, she lift me, she need me,
the sound of the continents as they first tore apart and the surge of the oceans,
the music of that, the songs especially but also the poems, she take me,
the rosins of craving, the tables of lust in its periodicity, they cannot
and cannot and cannot partake of this feast and the terrible emptiness
that follows, she make me, she lift, me, I freely give her one grand opera rose
and hiphop dove, she under my skin, she knife in my mind, this thing,
oh this millennial and hallucinatory and radiant thing, she bring me,
she lift me, she take me, she bring me love
love love love crazy love.

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