John Donne

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

Contents
Find Location in text

Main Text

To the Countesse of BedfordAt New-yeares Tide

  • 1This twilight of two yeares, not past nor next,
  • 2     Some embleme is of mee, or I of this,
  • Editor’s Note3Who Meteor-like, of stuffe and forme perplext,
  • 4  Whose what, and where, in disputation is,
  • Editor’s Note5  If I should call mee any thing, should misse.
  • 6I summe the yeares, and ee, and finde mee not
  • 7   Debtor to th'old, nor Creditor to th'new,
  • 8That cannot say, My thankes I have forgot,
  • Critical Apparatus9  Nor trust I this with hopes, and yet scarce true
  • Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus10  This bravery is, since these times shew'd mee you.
  • pg 9911In recompence I would show future times
  • Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus12  What you were, and teach them to'urge towards such.
  • 13Verse embalmes vertue;'and Tombs, or Thrones of rimes,
  • 14  Preserve fraile transitory fame, as much
  • Editor’s Note15  As spice doth bodies from corrupt aires touch.
  • 21So, my verse built of your just praise, might want
  • 22  Reason and likelihood, the firmest Base,
  • 23And made of miracle, now faith is scant,
  • 24  Will vanish soone, and so possesse no place,
  • Editor’s Note25  And you, and it, too much grace might disgrace.
  • 26When all (as truth commands assent) confesse
  • Critical Apparatus27  All truth of you, yet they will doubt how I,
  • Editor’s Note28One corne of one low anthills dust, and lesse,
  • Critical Apparatus29  Should name, know, or expresse a thing so high,
  • 30  And not an inch, measure infinity.
  • 31I cannot tell them, nor my selfe, nor you,
  • Editor’s Note32  But leave, lest truth b'endanger'd by my praise,
  • 33And turne to God, who knowes I thinke this true,
  • 34  And useth oft, when such a heart mis-sayes,
  • Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus35  To make it good, for, such a prayser prayes.
  • 51He will make you speake truths, and credibly,
  • 52  And make you doubt, that others doe not so:
  • 53Hee will provide you keyes, and locks, to spie,
  • 54  And scape spies, to good ends, and hee will show
  • 55  What you may not acknowledge, what not know.
  • 56For your owne conscience, he gives innocence,
  • Editor’s Note57  But for your fame, a discreet warinesse,
  • Editor’s Note58And though to scape, then to revenge offence
  • 59  Be better, he showes both, and to represse
  • Editor’s Note60  Joy, when your state swells, sadnesse when 'tis lesse.

Notes Settings

Notes

Critical Apparatus
To the Countesse of Bedford At New-yeares Tide. MSS.: TCD, O'F. Title from MSS. (which, however, read B. for Bedford): To… Bedford. On New-yeares day 1633, Gr.
Editor’s Note
ll. 3–4. Meteors were atmospheric phenomena of the lower regions of the air (wind, rain, snow, hail, lightning, rainbows, dew, and prodigies like those touched on by Burton, Anatomy, part. 2, sect. 2, memb. 3). See Seneca, Quaestiones Naturales, 1. i, etc., for discussion of their causes and exact location, which were matters in dispute. 'Perplext' means 'tangled, intricately intertwined', as in Bacon, Advancement of Learning, 11. vii. 5: 'the forms of substances I say (as they are now by compounding and transplanting multiplied) are so perplexed, as they are not to be inquired'; hence they are 'perplexing', baffling, like the relationship of 'forme' to matter in meteors. Donne usually employs meteors as an image of hovering between two states; here of the uncertainty of his position in life, and perhaps of his lack of occupation ('forme', that would make him something).
Editor’s Note
l. 5. misse: miss my aim, make an error.
Critical Apparatus
9 true] true, 1633
Critical Apparatus
10 is,] is 1633
times MSS.: time 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 10. bravery: bravado, swagger.
Critical Apparatus
12 such.] such, 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 12. to'urge towards such: to strive to equal the virtues Donne shows them, as a model, in the Countess.
Editor’s Note
l. 15. corrupt: corrupting.
Critical Apparatus
16 short-liv'd] short liv'd 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 16. Mine: my verses.
tincture: universal tincture or elixir (cf. 'To Sir Edward Herbert', l. 20 and note, p. 240). The Countess's name is like the tincture made by refining gold to the highest degree, so that it has power to transform other substances to itself. It does this by changing the 'spirits' of those substances into 'new spirits'.
Critical Apparatus
17 fast,] fast 1633 uncorrected
Editor’s Note
ll. 17–20. For all alchemical processes a controlled and constant heat was thought necessary (cf. 'To Mr. Rowland Woodward', l. 27, and note, p.224). 'Strong extracts' like aqua fortis, vitriol, etc., keep bodies warm, but are too severe, and destroy ('wast') eventually the new substances they have created. The Countess's name is too powerful an agent, for, after shining a while in Donne's lines, it will be the cause of their destruction. In ll. 21–25 he adroitly extricates himself from this somewhat dangerous position.
Critical Apparatus
18 spirits MSS.: spirit 1633
Critical Apparatus
20 last:] lasts. 1633 uncorrected
Editor’s Note
l. 25. it: my verse. She has such miraculous grace of character that, in recording it, Donne's poem will be regarded as false (too good to be true), and hence both it and the Countess will be brought to shame.
Critical Apparatus
27 I,] I 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 28. corne: grain (of dust, etc.); O.E.D, I.
Critical Apparatus
29 name, know,] name know 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 32. leave: stop trying.
Critical Apparatus
35 prayser O'F: prayer 1633, TCD
Editor’s Note
l. 35. such a prayser prayes. Faltering or inappropriate praise of God is regarded by Him as a prayer for forgiveness for this inadequacy and for grace to praise Him better.
Critical Apparatus
37 blood;] blood, 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 37. favour: charm.
Editor’s Note
ll. 38–40. He mill perplex security, etc. He will intermingle freedom from care with anxieties and then dispel those anxieties, withdraw and then show you favour, and thus increase your desire for Him and satisfy it.
security: freedom from care and anxiety (O.E.D. I. 3), as in Macbeth, 111. v. 32.
Critical Apparatus
39 doubts;] doubts, 1633
Editor’s Note
ll. 41–42. have not One latitude: do not occupy the same respective positions.
Critical Apparatus
42 Court;] Court, 1633
Critical Apparatus
43 got;] got, 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 43. In the cloister things are either good or bad. In Courts there are many things that are neither good nor bad, but indifferent.
Editor’s Note
l. 44. pitty: tolerance aroused by pity for the sinful. A virtue elsewhere, it is too soft an emotion to feel for vices that deserve anger or contempt.
Editor’s Note
ll. 44–45. some vaine disport, etc. A certain amount of idle entertainment, considered unworthy elsewhere, may be thought tolerable in Court life, so long as it stops short of actual sin.
Critical Apparatus
45 side sinne,] side, sinne; 1633
Critical Apparatus
46 he,] he 1633
Critical Apparatus
47 Which MSS.: With 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 47. ingresse: invade, intrude upon.
Editor’s Note
l. 48. what none else lost: complete virtue. Others never had it to lose.
Editor’s Note
ll. 49–50. God will give you ways to exercise and increase your virtue, even beyond what you now possess, in your dealings with the weaknesses of others.
Editor’s Note
l. 57. discreet warinesse. One of the four 'elements' of the Christian life, says Donne, 'is a good conscience in my selfe, That either a holy warinesse before, or a holy repentance after, settle me so in God, as that I care not though all the world knew all my faults' (Sermons, ix. 230); but this must be tempered with discretion, on which see General Introduction, pp.xxxv–xxxviii.
Editor’s Note
ll. 58–59. 'Though it be better to avoid than to revenge an offence, God will show you how to do both.' Presumably He will teach her how to 'turn the other cheek' when offended.
Editor’s Note
l. 60. state: chiefly, her financial position (it was no secret that it was more often 'lesse' than not).
Editor’s Note
l. 61. teares: of repentance (for she will not sin).
Editor’s Note
l. 63. dis-inroule: remove from the roll of the redeemed, from the Book of Life. Baptism and repentance are ways of being enrolled there.
Critical Apparatus
65 New Yeare.] new yeare, 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 65. This private Ghospell. The thought occurs in Donne's New Year sermons, especially that opening the year 1625: 'God presents him [Abraham] thus many New-years-gifts: First, he gives him a new Name; … God shall give us new Names (new Demonstrations, that our names are written in the Booke of life) … If you wil heare his voice this day, Hodie eritis, This day you shall be with him in Paradise, and dwell in it all the yeare, and all the yeares of an Everlasting life' (Sermons, vi. 194 ff.).
logo-footer Copyright © 2018. All rights reserved.
Access is brought to you by Log out