John Donne Declines a Benefice

Shut out the sound. — These June birds shrill
Their easy ecstasies too well
To make a music for the thoughts
That deep within discordantly delve
This fallow mind. Now seal
The circling conscience in a whiten'd wall
Of calm decision. So reach the still
Mental height where Time will bring
A naked peace — the while an avid throng
Hustles in the dim sunken gulf.

There only this remains: to be a self
Determined by the building brain —
The mind in a heaven attained alone.
Sects climb by fallible stairs
And ways unlit by thinking eyes.
The ego sings an individual praise,
Graceful enough to God — whose mind is mine;
Who is this supple flesh and bone
Aggrandised in aeriness, eaten by no worms
Of dutiful doubt. No alarms
Fret that lonely omnipotence;
He is one and has none higher to enhance
Enormously the wavering needle of a will.
But he to man is a magnetic North, a call
For conscience to settle toward,
And through the tossings of a stormy run
Rest as quiescent as it can
Till it attain its set attraction in death.
Then there's extinction — good enough, in all truth
To dissolve in its dark motionless vat
The heart's stony clot
Of fast fermented flesh.
Would that the will set there! What a hush
There would be in the individual earth,
And a calm setting-forth
To meet Christ or Satan with an apposite jest.
But no: death is a blast
To exclude with woollens if wonder's wan.
If you live lustily you bare the skin,
Take chance in sinew'd arms
And cloth'd in energies scorn stabbing storms
Till finally they fell you and derisively heap
Over your bones boulders of faith and hope.

Yet what of the molten soul in that labyrinth?
Meet we men there contained in shells
Of throughshine flesh, a tenth
As corporeal as skinless skulls?
But yet persons of dower'd import,
Hailing each other in that sphere
Beyond earth, water, air and fire —
Souls that leave their bodies and depart
And rise like corks to the outer rim
Where elements cease and the gloom
Of matter is consumed in the glare
Of a timeless radiance, an intangible fire
That does not stain those white souls black
As Æthiops engender'd under a lusty sun,
But gloriously transmutes their earthly sin.
This is a garden where souls do find
Spiritual limbs and genitals.
Yet doubt dissembles all — there's aid
In equilibrium alone,
Holding the middle plane
Like Mahmed in his shroud and leaden sheet.
The mind can uproot
The earth these numb feet stand upon
And make it spin about the sun.
Thus is the symmetry of God's world destroy'd
To make a logic on a scroll.
What folly's there — to reflect
On perfect mirrors the imperfect all!
Think how the lovely is lost in the act!
Once I was Jack Donne, burned by the vast
Energies of an eager lust,
And leapt with zeal
Into the mirage of a limpid pool
Which my impinging body crackt
Into a crater, a sulphurous hole
Of faithless lechery.
I reattained the fresh atmospheres
By the perfection of a fair fantasy,
This heart's concern, a sun to shine
In the night of lust.

So shall the soul invade
The world of the imaginary divine
In which the fanatic can abandon selfhood.
But a sick pride calls the act profane —
To rid this soul of its compact kingdom
And give it a crystal nothingness,
The body left, a wickless mass
Of inchoation. There's some divine amalgam
Of flesh and spirit, an alloy
Which I must find — must make my God
Invisibly from spit and clay.

But Oh! that skill might achieve some end:
Make choice and be! My breast,
Heavy as a thundercloud, longs for impact
And sonorous riot, tassell'd with light
Of mortal power. Now Morton takes my hand
And all too impressively points a way
For this mind amorous of conflict. And there's action there —
Men to be moved by brighter shine than Satan's lure!
This circled breast could burst its load
Of clamorous appeal till the winged angels heed
The message and its personal seal.
My sheaf of snakes I'll turn to whips
Of merciless castigation. And cups
Of solace then I'll pour
On every pulver'd spreading scar.
My mind will move
In alternate circles of hate and love ...

If the propulsion for such scheme
Were generate in this complex frame!
Come, give it comprest thought,
End this fever of muscles distraught.
Sit. Relax these legs and arms,
Even to the digit tips. A racked heretic squirms
Scarce more remarkably. So. Now hangs my soul
In compos'd aeriness. The tempests fall
To yellow calm ...

There's Paracelsus' craft
Wherein man can be expressed
In dying monuments ... My fancy lingers there
Only a while, to endure
A last defeat. I have learning in the law,
And, practised in a soft tongue and genteel bow,
Might give my spirit ease in worldly power.
But there's subservience to one in whom
Dalliance lives — who could for a whim
Debase my structure ere I'd done.

What remains? Aver Casaubon's light?
The Annals of Baronius refute?
Conjure with Mirandula's name?
Or from Sebonde select a theme?
There's food enough for wit
In this present service. With it,

And leave and leisure to elaborate my thought,
I'd be content. The soul, enlarged in solitude,
Diminishes to naught the vain parade
That buttresses on empty pates.

But there's no guarantee: Morton departs
And I am outcast in a wrangling world
Where an evolved soul's of no avail,
Save for the delight of wits. And I scorn
To pour out my soul to their flatten'd gaze —
Its craft is my own, secretly to devise.

Budded emotions swell and show green sheaths
Piercing to their wanted light.
From these I must gently cultivate
Ingenious trees, threading their laths
Of leaves and twigs into the air of heaven.
Such monuments will wane
Many men's lives; or even
Petrify to indestructible stone.
To build such monuments is the test
Of life's worth to the will: to fail
Is to burn flesh and spirit in the fast
Flames of the dissolute self —
To acknowledge this vessel an empty drum
Beaten by chance; and vision the whim
Of heated brains. Thus is hell entail'd.
I must complete the dizzy tower;
Rectify Babel's shame and Job's despair,
And in the fullness of one made all
Pour this hydroptic flesh and aery soul,
Death emptying the vessel quite.

But chaunt prayers, mechanically shrive
Melancholy sinners fearful of their fate?
Vent manhood in a carping rave
Against the hoofed devil? Fade into age
Full of dissembling sanctity, a palsied doge
His city built into the sea of lust
On rotting piles? Youth a smirk
Of unleashed thought ... Memory a blast
With'ring my grey hairs ... I'll not! I'll not!
Quick! To Morton! The will is set!
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