national poetry month, day 3.

One of the literary accounts I follow recently tweeted something about John Donne’s erotic poetry, and of course I followed up. I have to say I’d never noticed before, being more familiar with his correspondence in poem form and his religious sonnets. But golly, she’s right. John Donne, you gorgeously dirty fellow.

Elegy XIX
To His Mistress Going to Bed
by John Donne

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 he 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 stopt there.
Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime
Tell me from you, that now it is 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 beauteous state reveals,
As when from flowry meads th’ hill’s shadow steals.
Off with that wiry Coronet and show
The hairy Diadem which on you doth grow:
Now off with those shoes, and then safely tread
In this love’s hallow’d temple, this soft bed.
In such white robes, heaven’s Angels used to be
Receiv’d 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 Angels from an evil sprite,
Those set our hairs, but these our flesh upright.
    License my roving hands, and let them go,
Before, behind, between, above, below.
Oh my America! my new-found-land,
My kingdom, safeliest when with one man mann’d,
My Mine of precious stones, My Empery,
How blest 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 uncloth’d 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 lay-men, are all women thus array’d;
Themselves are mystic books, which only we
(Whom their imputed grace will dignify)
Must see reveal’d. Then since that I may know,
As liberally, as to a Midwife, show
Thyself: cast all, yea, this white linen hence,
There is no penance due to innocence.
     To teach thee, I am naked first; why then
What needst thou have more covering than a man.

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