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The Holy Sonnets of John Donne

Original text in yellow, anagram in pink.

This series of anagrams was inspired by noting a confluence of literary nineteens:

1) The Holy Sonnets of John Donne are 19 in number.
2) There is a famous collection of Chinese poems from the Han Dynasty known as "19 Poems in the Old Style".
3) There are 19 lines in Dylan Thomas' poem "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night", and its subject is similar to Donne.
4) Omitting the preface and afterword volumes, there are 19 titles in the Storisende Edition of the works of James B. Cabell.

Thus, in the following:

1) Each poem is an anagram of the corresponding Donne sonnet and attempts to preserve some of its flavor.
2) Each is influenced by the corresponding Chinese poem.
3) The last line of each poem is the corresponding line in "Do Not Go Gentle", or an approximation of it.
4) If you start at the first word of a poem and read the words down the left column, you will find the corresponding Cabell title.

A fifth 19 is involved in poem #13.

============ #1 ===========

As due by many titles I resign
Myself to thee, O God, first I was made
By thee, and for thee, and when I was decayed
Thy blood bought that, the which before was thine,
I am thy son, made with thyself to shine,
Thy servant, whose pains thou hast still repaid,
Thy sheep thine image, and, till I betrayed
Myself, a temple of thy Spirit divine;
Why doth the devil then usurp in me?
Why doth he steal, nay ravish that's thy right?
Except thou rise and for thine own work fight,
Oh I shall soon despair, when I do see
That thou lov'st mankind well, yet wilt not choose me,
And Satan hates me, yet is loth to lose me.


      With Thee or Without?

Figures of men, shapeless as sheep on the hillsides
Of the untidy, silvery orb we call the
        So is my empty soul today:
Empty and beset with hate for the truth's pathway.

And away I travel by the steep wayside,
From the deathless nemesis of mankind,
Or toward the tyranny of infinity.

The phantoms loom:
Each day the way becomes more deviant,
Split in two or haunted, Lethe-like,
Shrouded with the stain of sin
Yet still leavened by his hand.

At this hellish shame with which I'm vexed
I hiss, beneath thy shadow and thy light:
Do not go gentle into that good night.

============ #2 ===========

Oh my black soul! now thou art summoned
By sickness, death's herald, and champion;
Thou art like a pilgrim, which abroad hath done
Treason, and durst not turn to whence he is fled,
Or like a thief, which till death's doom be read,
Wisheth himself delivered from prison;
But damned and haled to execution,
Wisheth that still he might be imprisoned;
Yet grace, if thou repent, thou canst not lack;
But who shall give thee that grace to begin?
Oh make thyself with holy mourning black,
And red with blushing, as thou art with sin;
Or wash thee in Christ's blood, which hath this might
That being red, it dyes red souls to white.


      The Thicket in Twilight

The green, green thicket sticks turn a
Silver hue in the twilight; night rushes in like a
Stallion of blood red or blackened hue.
  White, white is the poignant hand
That touches the little head of the shepherd child,
And frees him from the hubbub wild
Of mankind's hollow Sabbath and mammoth doubt.
Stoop, hedonist - do wear the white robe!

Crimson is my lust, the latch that unlocks;
Hard brown is this wrenching paradox.
Colors rush in and out my weary head;
Chaos habitates home, my thoughts mislead.

With dim torch-heat I end the pilgrim's way:
Old age should burn and rave at close of day.

============ #3 ===========

This is my play's last scene, here heavens appoint
My pilgrimage's last mile; and my race
Idly, yet quickly run, hath this last pace,
My span's last inch, my minute's latest point.
And gluttonous death will instantly unjoint
My body, and soul, and I shall sleep a space,
But my ever-waking part shall see that face,
Whose fear already shakes my every joint.
Then, as my soul, to heaven her first seat, takes flight,
And earth-born body, in the earth shall dwell,
So, fall my sins, that all may have their right,
To where they are bred, and would press me, to hell.
Impute me righteous, thus purged of evil,
For thus I leave the world, the flesh, the devil.



Domnei, the fabled worship-love of old,
  Agape, palpable Eros, playful Philia:
These shall, in sum, soon fail in their assault
As I skulk toward my end, my grave, my vault.

The chasm waits, but yet I jest and strum
The lute, and seek to quell my soul with wine;
'Tween here and there my sad drama's played,
All harsh rhythms and colors pavonine.
Shall I have the chaste spirit?
Or play the empty jester, rich dandy?
I think not on the lure, mind not her evil caress.

Firstly, lash the steed: by sylvan valleys fly,
Then muse on Him supreme, with upcast eyes;
Lastly, lastly, let there be a feast tonight:
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

============ #4 ===========

At the round earth's imagined corners, blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go,
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,
All whom war, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance, hath slain, and you whose eyes
Shall behold God, and never taste death's woe.
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space,
For, if above all these, my sins abound,
'Tis late to ask abundance of thy grace,
When we are there; here on this lowly ground,
Teach me how to repent; for that's as good
As if thou hadst sealed my pardon with thy blood.


     Time to Dance, Time to Mourn

The brass blows a royal fanfare,
Music assays all who lay,
From lords to ladies.
Behind the tiny house or castle, over
The woodland way, beyond that russet
Moon, o'er hill and dale:
  Hear The Ballad of Adept Souls:
  Dig The Resurrection Rag!

But wait! Dance not yet.
Anon we go our sad way;
We plead for help -
Release from the mortal plane,
Or at least some way to ascend beyond
The flesh's unchanged hardships.

Beneath the sad sun we are
  A frightened ghost,
  A somber hymn,
  An idle voice,
  A handful of dust.

We ponder, is our soul shadow or light? -
Though wise men at their end see dark is right.

============ #5 ===========

If poisonous minerals, and if that tree,
Whose fruit threw death on else immortal us,
If lecherous goats, if serpents envious
Cannot be damned; alas, why should I be?
Why should intent or reason, born in me,
Make sins, else equal, in me more heinous?
And mercy being easy, and glorious
To God, in his stern wrath, why threatens he?
But who am I, that dare dispute with thee
O God? Oh! of thine only worthy blood,
And my tears, make a heavenly Lethean flood,
And drown in it my sin's black memory;
That thou remember them, some claim as debt,
I think it mercy, if thou wilt forget.


     A Sad Maiden

Chivalry is dead - so quoth the Shinto widow
  Who sobs for her man taken at moonset:
Undone by the foul mortal enemies,
No one to minister to him or his heirs.

So do I sing a related refrain
When embattled within and without
By the unease in my soul.
Shall I be cheerful, forgetting my grief,
Or take up the plowshare in haste
To work out my scene with fear?
Oh, let me be a ram, a finch, or a mollusc,
That has no presumed sin to deny!

My silent deeds or unborn movements may
Damn me. But will, I hesitantly say,
(Because their words had forked no lighting) they?

============ #6 ===========

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me;
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, Death thou shalt die.


     The Release

The horses of black are powerless, as darkly they
Line the earth, dry as even the dust
Of the assorted victims thereupon:
Love unfurls and makes even the death-knell hollow.

So we worship the dusky blossom and the dewdrop,
The pastoral snowfall, the midmorn mountain,
The moment of drama that precedes the snowstorm;
In short, we embrace life's workaday sounds,
We belabor not Death's minor annoyance;
Rather, we humbly unleash a tenuous dance.

Stop, blow the trumpet, and proceed to hold
Thy fear in check: accept the shroud of old.
And shut the mouth that shouts, upthrust with spite,
"Do not go gentle into that good night".

============ #7 ===========

Spit in my face you Jews, and pierce my side,
Buffet, and scoff, scourge, and crucify me,
For I have sinned, and sinned, and only he,
Who could do no iniquity, hath died:
But by my death cannot be satisfied
My sins, which pass the Jews' impiety:
They killed once an inglorious man, but I
Crucify him daily, being now glorified.
Oh let me then, his strange love still admire:
Kings pardon, but he bore our punishment.
And Jacob came clothed in vile harsh attire
But to supplant, and with gainful intent:
God clothed himself in vile man's flesh, that so
He might be weak enough to suffer woe.



Jurgen jested oft with high Koshchei,
  Who Made All Things As They Are.
Just so, false-made, impudently I shame him,
So disinclined to sit unbent in his sufficiency,
Like the Chinese friend who left unbid,
With flippant quips on an autumn night.

Did I, in candor, love so badly?
Do I publicly upbraid?
Do you cry for me?
Does absence grow a fonder heart?
Or simply shame's bad name?
My fervent hope is that I turn
  And bind myself in love.

Oh, make my sheen an incandescent white,
So that I could, undoubting, go incite
Good men, the last wave by, crying "How bright!".

============ #8 ===========

Why are we by all creatures waited on?
Why do the prodigal elements supply
Life and food to me, being more pure than I,
Simple, and further from corruption?
Why brook'st thou, ignorant horse, subjection?
Why doest thou bull, and boar so sillily
Dissemble weakness, and by one man's stroke die,
Whose whole kind, you might swallow and feed upon?
Weaker I am, woe is me, and worse than you,
You have not sinned, nor need be timorous.
But wonder at a greater wonder, for to us
Created nature doth these things subdue,
But their Creator, whom sin, nor nature tied,
For us, his creatures, and his foes, hath died.


     The Water-Lotus Knows

The brown bamboo rod on our muddy brook's bank,
High moss that surrounds the weed or tree:
Place and Plant, Sower and Sowed, now join here
  To show the workaday order of things.

The burro hauls his burden in mute resoluteness,
Our fiery orchids and lupins blossom beauteously;
But why? Because we rule this colorless set?

We scurry up the foul, insulted moor,
We moan not, nor do feel a twinge of pain,
Yet hurt this planet time and time again.

O woe, woe are they, I do weep in sure dismay:
If mankind had not interfered today,
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay.

============ #9 ===========

What if this present were the world's last night?
Mark in my heart, O soul, where thou dost dwell,
The picture of Christ crucified, and tell
Whether that countenance can thee affright,
Tears in his eyes quench the amazing light,
Blood fills his frowns, which from his pierced head fell,
And can that tongue adjudge thee unto hell,
Which prayed forgiveness for his foes' fierce spite?
No, no; but as in my idolatry
I said to all my profane mistresses,
Beauty, of pity, foulness only is
A sign of rigour: so I say to thee,
To wicked spirits are horrid shapes assigned,
This beauteous form assures a piteous mind.


    Cold Flesh, Cold Sepulchre

Gallantry and grace: so I hoped for
  When pessimistic or dispirited;
So is my soul and spirit when I curse,
Suffused with stuff and these silly pursuits.

I'm a strange tree in the garden,
I break my branch, I bend my shoots;
Ah, but what if this was my life's final hour?
Should I have success, and rise up high,
Or hot-foot it to The Place Down There?

The road is quite far, and joins the West
Where the filthy, frozen corpse testifies
Of its humorless race, its lonely end.
Yet now I hear a pulse, a hint of ruin.

So come on to the flame, awake contrite:
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

============ #10 ===========

Batter my heart, three-personed God; for, you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue,
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy.
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you enthral me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.


    Aurora Borealis

Something like herb-battered fish and chips,
About three pounds worth: aye, help me now!
Eve, mock not my dour tuber lunch:
  I eat to live, and yet live to eat.

Fall is now over everyone, yet on me
No moon or other darker orb evokes
An autumn reverie or outdoor daydream.

O dour, unnamed executioner,
You break our battered body. Yet our back,
Undaunted, abandons not its burden.

Obey, eat up the master's food,
Not a serpent-baked, mucky manure!

Typify in me the very beauty of mercy,
Make me like proud, ardent ones that excite:
Wild men who veered and saw the sun in flight.

============ #11 ===========

Wilt thou love God, as he thee? then digest,
My soul, this wholesome meditation,
How God the Spirit, by angels waited on
In heaven, doth make his temple in thy breast.
The Father having begot a Son most blessed,
And still begetting, (for he ne'er begun)
Hath deigned to choose thee by adoption,
Coheir to his glory, and Sabbath's endless rest;
And as a robbed man, which by search doth find
His stol'n stuff sold, must lose or buy it again:
The Son of glory came down, and was slain,
Us whom he had made, and Satan stol'n, to unbind.
'Twas much, that man was made like God before,
But, that God should be made like man, much more.


     What Man is Made Of

The wagon wheels heave up the bottom path;
Certain death bids all who doubt its body weight.
Hour by hour the bondsman does his daily toil,
  As do I.

O, these gangs of numb-nerved men abscond,
Beset with bad debts and bland midnights,
Who thought that no man could command
  The assignment grand:
To breach the schism between us and him,
Grab the cord of Almightiness,
Help us hold fast to the grandness of life.

No, be not, soul, like those who seek a name,
Ignore his dogma, boast, seek godless fame!
In truth, one day they'll seal their soul's dismay,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way.

============ #12 ===========

Father, part of the double interest
Unto thy kingdom, thy Son gives to me,
His jointure in the knotty Trinity
He keeps, and gives me his death's conquest.
This Lamb, whose death with life the world hath blessed,
Was from the world's beginning slain, and he
Hath made two wills, which with the legacy
Of his and thy kingdom, do thy sons invest.
Yet such are thy laws, that men argue yet
Whether a man those statutes can fulfil;
None doth, but thy all-healing grace and Spirit
Revive again what law and letter kill.
Thy law's abridgement, and thy last command
Is all but love; oh let that last will stand!


  The Two Testaments

The shallot leaves, and
Cords of wood;
Of this I'm quite sure:
Vanity's not good.

Wet dew that sits
Upon the land
Shall all be fled,
Like shallow man.

All this I wish
And, haughty, think:
Burn not in hell,
But calm with drink.

Yet shall this be,
My breast thus heaves?
And shall I die,
As burning leaves?

The die is cast -
Why dryly jest?
The day-end hymn
Might rhyme the best.

New smut, calm mind:
Farce of another kind.

When forthwith the grave awkwardly awaits,
Then permanently pass I through the gate;
Yet watch, as I attach this feeling trite:
Do not go gentle into that good night.

============ #13 ===========

Thou has made me, and shall thy work decay?
Repair me now, for now mine end doth haste,
I run to death, and death meets me as fast.
And all my pleasures are like yesterday,
I dare not move my dim eyes any way,
Despair behind, and death before doth cast
Such terror, and my feebled flesh doth waste
By sin in it, which it toward hell doth weigh;
Only thou art above, and when towards thee
By thy leave I can look, I rise again;
But our old subtle foe so tempteth me,
That not one hour I can myself sustain;
Thy grace may wing me to prevent his art,
And thou like adamant draw mine iron heart.


    Nineteen Death Haiku

From east     toward us     the armada comes

The grave     beckons      my riven soul

Hidden in paddy     a crocodile     waits

Way of man     resembles      way of all


Two ants    stone thud      death duet

The smithy    saddles      his old horse

Dynamite    detonate     entomb

Wake    toil      abhor Utopia

Farm    hen     knife

Buddha statue    poplars      in neat rows


Wheat hour    rye day      chaff month

Old    man     worm meal

Sad day    no honey      try a hymn

Sleet    ice    sleep

Monthly    hothead      I sneer

Toad    in river    oar thud

War    the enemy      brutality

Heat    decay      bitter reality

Grave men near death    who see with    blinding sight.

============ #14 ===========

O might those sighs and tears return again
Into my breast and eyes, which I have spent,
That I might in this holy discontent
Mourn with some fruit, as I have mourned in vain;
In mine idolatry what showers of rain
Mine eyes did waste! what griefs my heart did rent!
That sufferance was my sin, now I repent;
Because I did suffer I must suffer pain.
Th' hydroptic drunkard, and night-scouting thief,
The itchy lecher, and self tickling proud
Have the remembrance of past joys, for relief
Of coming ills. To poor me is allowed
No ease; for, long, yet vehement grief hath been
The effect and cause, the punishment and sin.


     The Modern Gifted Cynic

The satirist writes, and he tallies the victims:
'Jewel' has her pain of unreturned love,
Merchants of Venice their pound of flesh,
  Faust, his famous sin-payment gig,
  Edgar Poe, his panicky thoughts of Lenore,
  Milton, his Paradise that God forswore.

Literature is achy with reciting, ad infinitum,
Man's infirmities and urgent woes;
The sad rhythms of his fright, ad nauseam,
Ever accompanies him and ever by goes.

Yet may he now throw off the unfit stench,
Of impure hurt and sin intent today,
And face the brand-new morn with fresh intent,
Blind eyes could shine like meteors and be gay! 

============ #15 ===========

I am a little world made cunningly
Of elements, and an angelic sprite,
But black sin hath betrayed to endless night
My world's both parts, and oh, both parts must die.
You which beyond that heaven which was most high
Have found new spheres, and of new lands can write,
Pour new seas in mine eyes, that so I might
Drown my world with my weeping earnestly,
Or wash it, if it must be drowned no more:
But oh it must be burnt; alas the fire
Of lust and envy have burnt it heretofore
And made it fouler; let their flames retire
And burn me O Lord, with a fiery zeal
Of thee and thy house, which doth in eating heal.


    Terms of Non-Endearment

The humans on this Earth were fashioned well,
Rivet by new rivet, nail by nail.
In pain and our own whimsy are we built,
Grandfathers, widows, husbands, nymphets lewd,
Neck and womb with trembly lusts imbued.

  Wait a sec. No more of these silly rhymes. I'm haunted
by the scarcity of this life: a hundred years short,
but with sufficient pain for a million. Do we continue on
and be merry? Hold the pubescent women? Herald the sad
addendum? Wish that we had approval? Or...?
  Here, have one last motto:

Let not the blaze of truth die out tonight:
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

============ #16 ===========

If faithful souls be alike glorified
As angels, then my father's soul doth see,
And adds this even to full felicity,
That valiantly I hell's wide mouth o'erstride:
But if our minds to these souls be descried
By circumstances, and by signs that be
Apparent in us, not immediately,
How shall my mind's white truth by them be tried?
They see idolatrous lovers weep and mourn,
And vile blasphemous conjurers to call
On Jesus' name, and pharasaical
Dissemblers feign devotion. Then turn
O pensive soul, to God, for he knows best
Thy true grief, for he put it in my breast.


    Prudence: A Fictional Ballad

The limpid waters bubble, dark and deep
Eagles fly above, for victims seek;
Shadow and soft shade sit on the land:
  So subtle yet so visibly they stand.

Those up above must mimic silly mirth
As they observe our toiling on this Earth.
Men rouse up clueless to suffer many jams,
And spend their time constructing cute anagrams.

Yet still I blunder 'round on foul desire:
So loose my spirit, lose the burden dire,
Join in the harvest, set the land afire!

Suffuse me now with willful bliss tonight -
And you, my father, there on the sad height. 

=========== #17 =============

Since she whom I loved hath paid her last debt
To nature, and to hers, and my good is dead,
And her soul early into heaven ravished,
Wholly in heavenly things my mind is set.
Here the admiring her my mind did whet
To seek thee God; so streams do show the head,
But though I have found thee, and thou my thirst hast fed,
A holy thirsty dropsy melts me yet.
But why should I beg more love, when as thou
Dost woo my soul, for hers offering all thine:
And dost not only fear lest I allow
My love to saints and angels, things divine,
But in thy tender jealousy dost doubt
Lest the world, flesh, yea Devil put thee out.


    The Month of Unsettled Rhythms

The rush of winter is heard through the door;
Cream sits solid on the threshing floor.
Of distant days of old do I dwell on,
The days when we did share laugh upon
Jest. Devoted mates for aye,
  At least so we thought: now you're gone.

I loved that holy, thin and steely maid,
Yet here she lies so silent in the grave.

No hated hymn,
No levity:
My hardy love
Is vanity.

Hold thou my hand
In dust to dust:
Give me belief,
Not burning lust.

I tame mad laws,
Behold the gods,
Visit the bank,
Levy the odds.

Bemused and dull, I need some help today;
Ah, bless me now with your harsh tears, I pray.

============ #18 ===========

Show me dear Christ, thy spouse, so bright and clear.
What, is it she, which on the other shore
Goes richly painted? or which robbed and tore
Laments and mourns in Germany and here?
Sleeps she a thousand, then peeps up one year?
Is she self truth and errs? now new, now outwore?
Doth she, and did she, and shall she evermore
On one, on seven, or on no hill appear?
Dwells she with us, or like adventuring knights
First travail we to seek and then make love?
Betray kind husband thy spouse to our sights,
And let mine amorous soul court thy mild dove,
Who is most true, and pleasing to thee, then
When she is embraced and open to most men.


  Worship: Who, Where, Why, and What Power?

The authors that serve sadness have a long
Lineage; they shudder and sneer, and drone on
Of searching and numberless lost persons,
Lichfield or Narnia, Europe or Poictesme,
  Oppress us 'til we are very un-Donne.

Even so I vow to understand
The harsh truth: make it known, this I demand,
Else I shall but possess the perversions dire
That scheme thereby to damn my soul entire.
  So hold my hand - share the man-child halo!

Her metaphorical bosom do I seek:
I drown, nonplussed, without her sunshine, weak;
Yet balk not when she comes, but rush and smite:
Do not go gentle into that good night. 

============ #19 ===========

Oh, to vex me, contraries meet in one:
Inconstancy unnaturally hath begot
A constant habit; that when I would not
I change in vows, and in devotion.
As humorous is my contrition
As my profane love, and as soon forgot:
As riddlingly distempered, cold and hot,
As praying, as mute; as infinite, as none.
I durst not view heaven yesterday; and today
In prayers, and flattering speeches I court God:
Tomorrow I quake with true fear of his rod.
So my devout fits come and go away
Like a fantastic ague: save that here
Those are my best days, when I shake with fear.


  The End

Straws and camels
And Caesar and saints;
Prayer and lust,
Books and whores:
  I am one uncouth solipsist!
  A stoic yet feisty poet,
  An overview of the word "contradiction".

Today I vow as a stout Franciscan monk in a far-off monastery pew
  ("Ave, Maria, gratia plena; Dominus tecum."),

Then suddenly I'm dying, even in my very soul
  ("Woe is me, for I am a blithering idiot!"),

Next day I go on like that dunce, the Bard of Avon
  ("To swoon or not to swoon: that is the question."),

Then as a heavy youth airs, three hundred years hence:
  ("Rage, rage against the dying of the light.")

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Updated: May 10, 2016


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