John Donne

W. Milgate (ed.), John Donne: The Satires, Epigrams and Verse Letters

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The Calme

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Critical Apparatus
The Calme. MSS.: C 57, H 49; L 74, TCD; Dob, O'F, Q. Title from 1633, Σ: A Calme L 74, Q.
Editor’s Note
l.2. stupid: without consciousness or feeling (O.E.D. 2), torpid.
nothing it, doth swage: nothing assuages the miseries of the calm (as the calm itself had assuaged those of the storm).
Editor’s Note
ll. 3–4. The fable is inverted, etc. In one of the fables attributed to Aesop (Der Lateinische Äsop des Romuls, ed. G. Thiele, no. xxvii) the frogs ask Zeus for a king, and he throws a log ('blocke') into their pond. Awed at first, they come to despise the motionless log, and importune Zeus for another king. Angry at their insistence, he sends them a water-snake, which quickly devours them. The change (by the thirteenth century) in some forms of the fable from water-snake to stork is discussed by Eric Jacobsen ('The Fable is Inverted …', Classica et Mediaevalia, xiii. fasc. 1, Copenhagen, 1952; Miss Gardner kindly referred me to this article). The vernacular versions of Donne's youth had the familiar stork (cf. T. W. Baldwin, William Shakspere's Small Latine and Lesse Greek, 1944, i. 511).
Donne's image is only superficially appropriate, and involves a pun on 'blocke': the calm, in which the ship lies like a motionless log ('blocke'), is harder to bear than the storm (which is in the place of the stork), and is also a 'blocke' to the ship's progress.
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6 Heaven laughs] heavens laugh O'F
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7 can wish, that] can wish TCD: cold wish Dob, O'F: colde wish that Q
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9 those L 74, TCD, O'F, Q: these H 49, Dob: the 1633, C 57, Gr
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11 out,] out 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 12. a fir'd Church. The roofs of most churches in England (and sometimes their steeples) were covered with lead (see P. Hentzner, Itinerary, translated by R. Bentley, 1889, pp. 15–16). The steeple of St. Paul's was 'fiered by Lightning' on 4 June 1561 (Stow, Survey of London, ed. Kingsford, i. 331); accounts mention the melting of lead from the roof (e.g. The true Report of the incident, 1561, reprinted in Archaeologia xi, 1794); but the sight was no doubt fairly common.
Editor’s Note
l. 14. Like courts removing. 'When the hangings and the furniture are taken downe, it is a token that the King and the Court are remooving' (G. Goodman, The Fall of Man, 1616, p. 383). Jonson borrows Donne's line in The New Inn, IV. iv. 252, also l. 247. The juxtaposition of 'Court' and 'playes' has an edge to it; cf. the letters to Wotton, 'Here's no more newes', ll. 19–21, and 'Sir, more then kisses', ll. 23–24.
Editor’s Note
l. 15. The fighting place: not required for fighting, since no enemy could approach in the calm; and so used for drying clothing, etc. The 'fighting-place' was presumably (as Grosart suggests) the 'place' between foremast and mainmast closed off during battle by 'close-fights' or 'close-quarters'. These (O.E.D.) were stout wooden gratings put up as a protection against boarding parties; the area was the main centre of hand-to-hand fighting.
Editor’s Note
l. 16. frippery: a second-hand clothes shop.
Editor’s Note
l. 17. No use of lanthornes. The flagship, or 'Admiral', carried at night a lantern high on the stern, by which following ships of the squadron steered. Essex writes that he missed Raleigh 'with thirty sailes that in the night followed his light' (Purchas his Pilgrims, edition of 1907, xx. 27). In the calm there was no fear of the ships' losing one another, even in the dark.
Editor’s Note
l. 18. Feathers and dust. William Drummond wrote that Jonson 'esteemeth John Done the first poet in the World in some things his verses of the Lost Chaine, he heth by Heart & that passage of the calme, that dust and feathers doe not stirr, all was so quiet' (Jonson, Works, i. 135).
Editor’s Note
ll. 19–20. Cf. Bacon, The … History of Winds, translated by R. G., 1653, p. 88: 'many windes are engendred in the lowest Region of the Aire, and breathe out of the earth, besides those which are throwne down and beaten back' from 'the cold of the middle Region'. The 'upper valt of aire' was completely calm because no movement of air could penetrate the 'middle Region'. Cf. 'The Storm', ll. 13–16, and notes (p. 204). Donne means here that all movement of the air of every kind has ceased.
Critical Apparatus
20 th'upper] the upper 1633
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21 left Σ: lost 1633, Dob, O'F, Q, Gr
Editor’s Note
l. 21. left. The weight of manuscript evidence favours this reading, for which 'lost' is an easily made error. In some instances the word might have been changed to 'lost' to produce the easy antithesis 'lost'—'sought' which, I think, Donne was at pains to avoid. Cf. O.E.D., 'left', ppl. a. I.
Editor’s Note
l. 22. meteorlike. Cf. 'you hange betweene Heaven and Earth, like Meteors' (Pseudo-Martyr, p. 128). Wind itself was a meteor, one of the phenomena of the lowest region of the air. Donne means here 'we are poised between friend and foe'.
Editor’s Note
l. 23. Calenture: a frequently mentioned fever suffered by sailors in the Tropics, in which, from desire of seeing land, the delirious victim takes the sea for green fields and tries to jump into it.
Editor’s Note
l. 28. walkers in hot Ovens. Cf. 'Satire III', ll.23–24, and note (p. 142).
Critical Apparatus
29 these] this L 74, TCD, Dob, O'F, Q
Editor’s Note
l. 29. these: the 'great fishes' of l.24; sharks.
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30 our] a Dob, O'F, Q
Editor’s Note
l. 30. our brimstone Bath: perhaps 'Hell'. I suspect, however, that the phrase should be taken literally, and that it refers to hot, stinging sulphur baths, used to prevent or cure venereal disease. For this treatment, cf. Chapman, The Widow's Tears, I. ii. 32–34. I cannot find evidence, however, that any of the large quantities of brimstone (e.g. '400 weight', Acts of the Privy Council, 23 August 1588) delivered to the fleet was used for this purpose.
Editor’s Note
l. 32. parboyl'd: referring to cooking by 'partly boiling' and then completing the process by baking or broiling over 'coales'.
Critical Apparatus
33 shepheards] sheepheards 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 33. Bajazet encag'd, the shepheards scoffe. In Marlowe's Tamburlaine, Part I, IV. ii, Tamburlaine, the Scythian shepherd, has the conquered Emperor of the Turks, Bajazeth, locked in a cage and brought before him to be mocked.
Critical Apparatus
34 Or] And L 74, TCD, Dob, Q
Editor’s Note
l. 34. Sampson, his haire off. Cf. Samson's words in Judges xvi. 17: 'If I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak'. The caged Bajazeth and the shaven Samson, like the becalmed ships, indicate majestic power rendered useless and contemptible.
Editor’s Note
ll. 35–36. as a Miriade Of Ants, etc. Suetonius, Life of Tiberius, Ch. 72, tells how the pet snake of Tiberius was eaten by ants; the Emperor saw in this a warning of the power of the people, and turned back from his proposed entry into Rome. Here the point is that galleys rowed by many persons (like ants) might successfully destroy greater things, and royal possessions at that.
Critical Apparatus
37 Sea-gaoles] Sea-goales 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 37. crawling Gallies, Sea-gaoles, finny chips. Galleys, usually confined to the Mediterranean, are thought of as contemptible and un-English. They 'crawl' because propelled by oars; they are 'gaols' because they are rowed by chained prisoners; they are like 'chips' because relatively small; they are 'finny' because the oars protrude and act like fins.
finny. Cf. 'The Progress of the Soul', ll. 227–8 ('to rowe It selfe with finnie oares'), and Herrick, 'His tears to Thamasis', l. 11 ('with Finnie-Ore').
Critical Apparatus
38 Venices] venices 1633: Pinaces O'F, Gr
Editor’s Note
l. 38. brave: defy.
Venices. The ships are as motionless as cities rising out of the sea like Venice; and are now also like bed-ridden patients in their helplessness.
In B, Lut, and O'F the reading 'Venices', found in all other manuscripts, is sophisticated to 'Pinnaces', a reading adopted by Grierson. But pinnaces were light small boats used for exploring creeks, etc., and cannot be the type of large vessel obviously meant here.
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39 and] or O'F, Q
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40 Or] Or, 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 40. disuse: unaccustom, find relief.
Editor’s Note
ll. 43–46. Compare 'Love's War', ll. 17–28.
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44 'and a] and a 1633: a Dob: and O'F
Editor’s Note
l. 44. A desperate: a desperado, careless of death.
Critical Apparatus
45 all] each Dob, O'F, Q
Editor’s Note
l. 47. grudges us all: begrudges us all we desire.
Critical Apparatus
48 all forget] all forgott L 74, TCD, Dob, Q: had forgot O'F
pray;] pray, 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 48. forget. This is the Group I reading, superior to the alternatives. Donne is making a general statement about the customary workings of Fate: 'Fate denies us our wishes and cunningly devises miseries too out-of-the-way to enter our minds as possibilities as we pray.' He goes on to give the particular application: who would have remembered to pray for more wind after experiencing the storm just passed? 'Forgot' suggests that the calm is just an isolated caprice of fate; it does not fit the sequence of tenses; and it is more likely that a scribe would misread or alter 'forget' than the reverse.
Critical Apparatus
50 poles] Pole O'F, Q
Editor’s Note
ll. 51 ff. What are wee then? etc. The same cluster of ideas is found in Sermons, iii. 97, where Donne discusses the question of personal identity ('The specification of Creatures'). He mentions the old 'case' of a man eaten by a fish (cf. ll. 23–24 above) which is then eaten by another man; he asks his hearers to go further, and imagine themselves not assimilated, but

annihilated, become nothing, canst thou chuse but thinke God as perfect now, at least as he was at first, and can hee not as easily make thee up againe of nothing, as he made thee of nothing at first? Recogita quid fueris, antequam esses; Thinke over thy selfe; what wast thou before thou wast any thing? Meminisses utique, si fuisses; If thou hadst been any thing then, surely thou wouldst remember it now. Qui non eras, factus es; Cum iterum non eris, fies; Thou that wast once nothing, wast made this that thou art now; and when thou shalt be nothing againe, thou shalt be made better then thou art yet.

Donne refers to Tertullian, and is quoting a passage from Apol. adv. Gentes (Migne, P. L. i. 591) beginning, 'Considera temet ipsum, o homo'.
Critical Apparatus
52 was? he was] was, he was? C 57, H 49, O'F, Q (he was)
Editor’s Note
l. 54. it. The pronoun has no precise antecedent: perhaps, 'what we are' (l. 51), or more exactly, what we might be. Luck, or our own weakness or sin, always spoils the harmony and order of our lives.
Critical Apparatus
55 no will, no power L 74, TCD; no will nor power O'F: nor will, nor power Dob, Q: no power, no will 1633, C 57, H 49, Gr
no sense] nor sence Dob, O'F, Q
Editor’s Note
l. 55. will … power. This order is better supported than that in Group I and 1633, and is perhaps more logical, making an anticlimax—'will', 'power', 'sense'. Cf. 'To Mr B. B.' II, l. 8: 'Not my will only but power doth withhold.'
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