Satyr IIII

by John Donne

1594? 1597?

Edited by Jack Lynch

The evidence on the dating of the poem is ambiguous: an early manuscript annotation says "anno 1594," suggesting it was written in that year, but "the loss of Amyens" in line 114 took place in March 1597. This text comes from the edition of 1631, but introduces a few readings from other texts. The deleted verses at lines 134-36 are restored.

Well; I may now receive, and die; My sinne
Indeed is great, but I have beene in
A Purgatorie, such as fear'd hell is
A recreation, and scant map of this.
My minde, neither with prides itch, nor yet hath been [5]
Poyson'd with love to see, or to bee seene,
I had no suit there, nor new suite to shew,
Yet went to Court; But as Glaze which did goe
To Masse in jest, catch'd, was faine to disburse
The hundred markes, which is the Statutes curse; [10]
Before he scapt, So'it pleas'd my destinie
(Guilty of my sin of going,) to thinke me
As prone to all ill, and of good as forget-
full, as proud, as lustfull, and as much in debt,
As vaine, as witlesse, and as false as they [15]
Which dwell in Court, for once going that way.
Therefore I suffered this; Towards me did runne
A thing more strange, then on Niles slime, the Sunne
E'r bred, or all which into Noahs Arke came:
A thing, which would have pos'd Adam to name, [20]
Stranger then seaven Antiquaries studies,
Then Africks Monsters, Guianaes rarities,
Stranger then strangers; One, who for a Dane,
In the Danes Massacre had sure beene slaine,
If he had liv'd then; And without helpe dies, [25]
When next the Prentises 'gainst Strangers rise.
One, whom the watch at noone lets scarce goe by,
One, to whom, the examining Justice sure would cry,
Sir, by your priesthood tell me what you are.
His cloths were strange, though coarse; & black, though bare; [30]
Sleevelesse his jerkin was, and it had beene
Velvet, but 'twas now (so much ground was seene)
Become Tufftaffatie; and our children shall
See it plaine Rashe awhile, then nought at all.
This thing hath travail'd, and saith, speakes all tongues [35]
And only knoweth what to all States belongs,
Made of th'Accents, and best phrase of all these,
He speakes one language; If strange meats displease,
Art can deceive, or hunger force my tast,
But Pedants motley tongue, souldiers bumbast, [40]
Mountebankes drugtongue, nor the termes of law
Are strong enough preparatives, to draw
Me to beare this, yet I must be content
With his tongue: in his tongue, call'd complement:
In which he can win widdowes, and pay scores, [45]
Make men speake treason, cosen subtlest whores,
Out-flatter favorites, or outlie either
Jovius, or Surius, or both together.
He names mee, and comes to mee; I whisper, God!
How have I sinn'd, that thy wraths furious rod, [50]
This fellow chuseth me? He saith, Sir,
I love your judgement; Whom doe you prefer,
For the best linguist? And I seelily
Said, that I thought Calepines Dictionarie;
Nay, but of men, most sweet Sir. Beza then, [55]
Some Jesuites, and two reverend men
Of our two Academies, I named; There
He stopt mee, and said; Nay, your Apostles were
Good pretty linguists, and so Panirge was;
Yet a poore gentleman; All these may passe [60]
By travaile. Then, as if he would have sold
His tongue, he praised it, and such words told
That I was faine to say, If you'had liv'd, Sir,
Time enough to have beene Interpreter
To Babells bricklayers, sure the Tower had stood. [65]
He adds, If of court life you knew the good,
You would leave lonelinesse; I said, not alone
My lonelinesse is, but Spartanes fashion,
To teach by painting drunkards
, doth not last
Now; Aretines pictures have made few chast; [70]
No more can Princes courts, though there be few
Better pictures of vice, teach me vertue;
He, like to a high stretcht lute string squeakt, O Sir,
'Tis sweet to talke of Kings. At Westminster,
Said I, The man that keepes the Abbey tombes, [75]
And for his price doth with who ever comes,
Of all our Harries, and our Edwards talke,
From King to King and all their kin can walke:
Your eares shall heare nought, but Kings; your eyes meet
Kings only; The way to it, is Kingstreet. [80]
He smack'd, and cry'd, He's base, Mechanique, coarse,
So are all your Englishmen in their discourse.
Are not your Frenchmen neate? Fine, as you see,
I have but one frenchman, looke, hee followes mee.
Certes they are neatly cloth'd. I, of this minde am, [85]
Your only wearing is your Grogaram;
Not so Sir, I have more. Under this pitch
He would not flie; I chaff'd him; But as Itch
Scratch'd into smart, and as blunt iron grown'd
Into an edge, hurts worse: So, I foole found, [90]
Crossing hurt mee; To fit my sullennesse,
He to another key, his stile doth addresse.
And askes, what newes? I tell him of new playes.
He takes my hand, and as a Still, which staies
A Sembriefe, 'twixt each drop, he nigardly, [95]
As loth to enrich mee, so tells many a lie,
More then ten Hollensheads, or Halls, or Stowes,
Of triviall houshold trash; He knowes; He knowes
When the Queene frown'd, or smil'd, and he knowes what
A subtle States-man may gather of that; [100]
He knowes who loves; whom; and who by poyson
Hasts to an Offices reversion;
He knowes who'hath sold his land, and now doth beg
A licence, old iron, bootes, shooes, and egge-
shels to transport; Shortly boyes shall not play [105]
At span-counter, or blow-point, but shall pay
Toll to some Courtier; And wiser then all us,
He knowes what Ladie is not painted; Thus
He with home-meats tries me; I belch, spue, spit,
Looke pale, and sickly, like a Patient; Yet [110]
He thrusts on more; And as if he'undertooke
To say Gallo-Belgicus without booke
Speakes of all States, and deeds, that hath been since
The Spaniards came
, to the losse of Amyens.
Like a bigge wife, at sight of loathed meat, [115]
Readie to travaile: So I sigh, and sweat
To heare this Makeron talke in vaine: For yet,
Either my humour, or his owne to fit,
He like a priviledg'd spie, whom nothing can
Discredit, Libells now 'gainst each great man. [120]
He names a price for every office paid;
He saith, our warres thrive ill, because delai'd;
That offices are entail'd, and that there are
Perpetuities of them
, lasting as farre
As the last day; And that great officers, [125]
Doe with the Pirates share, and Dunkirkers.
Who wasts in meat, in clothes, in horse, he notes;
Who loves Whores, who boyes, and who goats.
I more amas'd then Circes prisoners, when
They felt themselves turne beasts, felt my selfe then [130]
Becomming Traytor, and mee thought I saw
One of our Giant Statutes ope his jaw
To sucke me in, for hearing him. I found
That as burnt venome Leachers doe grow sound
By giving others their soares, I might grow [135]
Guilty, and he free: Therefore I did shew
All signes of loathing; But since I am in,
I must pay mine, and my forefathers sinne
To the last farthing; Therefore to my power
Toughly and stubbornly I beare this crosse; But the'houre [140]
Of mercy now was come; He tries to bring
Me to pay a fine to scape his torturing,
And saies, Sir, can you spare me; I said, willingly;
Nay, Sir, can you spare me a crowne? Thankfully I
Gave it, as Ransome; But as fidlers, still, [145]
Though they be paid to be gone, yet needs will
Thrust one more jigge upon you: so did hee
With his long complementall thankes vexe me.
But he is gone, thankes to his needy want,
And the prerogative of my Crowne: Scant [150]
His thankes were ended, when I, (which did see
All the court fill'd with more strange things then hee)
Ran from thence with such or more hast, then one
Who feares more actions, doth hast from prison;
At home in wholesome solitarinesse [155]
My precious soule began, the wretchednesse
Of suiters at court to mourne, and a trance
Like his, who dreamt he saw hell, did advance
It selfe on mee, Such men as he saw there,
I saw at court, and worse, and more; Low feare [160]
Becomes the guiltie, not the accuser; Then,
Shall I, nones slave, of high borne, or rais'd men
Feare frownes? And, my Mistresse Truth, betray thee
To huffing, braggart, puft Nobility.
No, no, Thou which since yesterday hast beene [165]
Almost about the whole world, hast thou seene,
O Sunne, in all thy journey, Vanitie,
Such as swells the bladder of our court? I
Thinke he which made your waxen garden, and
Transported it from Italy to stand [170]
With us, at London, flouts our Presence, for
Just such gay painted things, which no sappe, nor
Tast have in them, ours are, And naturall
Some of the stocks are, their fruits, bastard all.
'Tis ten a clock and past; All whom the Mues, [175]
Baloune, Tennis, Dyet, or the stewes,
Had all the morning held, now the second
Time made ready, that day, in flocks, are found
In the Presence, and I, (God pardon mee.)
As fresh, and sweet their Apparrells be, as bee [180]
The fields they sold to buy them; For a King
Those hose are, cry the flatterers; And bring
Them next weeke to the Theatre to sell;
Wants reach all states; Me seemes they doe as well
At stage, as court; All are players, who e'r lookes [185]
(For themselves dare not goe) o'r Cheapside books,
Shall finde their wardrops Inventory; Now,
The Ladies come; As Pirats, which doe know
That there came weak ships fraught with Cutchannel,
The men board them; and praise, as they thinke, well, [190]
Their beauties; they the mens wits; Both are bought.
Why good wits ne'r weare scarlet gownes, I thought
This cause, These men, mens wits for speeches buy,
And women buy all reds which scarlets die.
He call'd her beauty limetwigs, her haire net. [195]
She feares her drugs ill laid, her haire loose set;
Would not Heraclitus laugh to see Macrine,
From hat, to shooe, himselfe at doore refine,
As if the Presence were a Moschite, and lift
His skirts and hose, and call his clothes to shrift, [200]
Making them confesse not only mortall
Great staines and holes in them; but veniall
Feathers and dust, wherewith they fornicate.
And then by Durers rules survay the state
Of his each limbe, and with strings the odds tries [205]
Of his neck to his legge, and wast to thighes.
So in immaculate clothes, and Symetrie
Perfect as circles, with such nicetie
As a young Preacher at his first time goes
To preach, he enters, and a Lady which owes [210]
Him not so much as good will, he arrests,
And unto her protests protests protests
So much as at Rome would serve to have throwne
Ten Cardinalls into the Inquisition;
And whisperd by Jesu, so often, that A [215]
Pursevant would have ravish'd him away
For saying of our Ladies psalter; But 'tis fit
That they each other plague, they merit it.
But here comes Glorius that will plague them both,
Who, in the other extreme, only doth [220]
Call a rough carelessenesse, good fashion;
Whose cloak his spurres teare; whom he spits on
He cares not, His ill words doe no harme
To him; he rusheth in, as if arme, arme,
He meant to crie; And though his face be as ill [225]
As theirs which in old hangings whip Christ, yet still
He strives to looke worse, he keepes all in awe;
Jeasts like a licenc'd foole, commands like law.
Tyr'd, now I leave this place, and but pleas'd so
As men from gaoles to'execution goe, [230]
Goe through the great chamber (why is it hung
With the seaven deadly sinnes
being among
Those Askaparts, men big enough to throw
Charing Crosse for a barre, men that doe know
No token of worth, but Queenes man, and fine [235]
Living barrells of beefe, flaggons of wine.
I shooke like a spyed Spie; Preachers which are
Seas of Wits and Arts, you can, then dare,
Drowne the sinnes of this place, for, for mee
Which am but a scarce brooke, it enough shall bee [240]
To wash the staines away; though I yet
With Macchabees modestie, he knowne merit
Of my worke lessen: yet some wise man shall,
I hope, esteeme my writs Canonicall.


That is, receive the last sacrament, either Communion or Extreme Unction.
Purgatory was a distinctive feature of Roman Catholic theology. Here it refers to the court.
Suit is a pun: a petition (as in lawsuit) and a suit of clothes.
Some manuscripts read Glare. Either way, the name suggests someone superficial.
Arrested for participating in an illegal ceremony.
Statutes curse
An act of 1580 established a fine of a hundred marks — around 65 pounds — for attending a Roman Catholic mass, and twice that for officiating at a mass.
The apostrophe indicates an elision of the vowels; the two syllables are to be pronounced as one. See also line 103, where "who'hath" is one syllable, and line 111, where the first two syllables of "he'undertooke" are pronounced as one.
Niles slime . . . bred
It was believed by many that the sun caused the spontaneous generation of living creatures in the mud of the Nile.
"Nonplussed," "puzzled," "bewildered."
Guianaes rarities
Sir Walter Raleigh had recently published The Discoverie of the Large, Rich and Bewtiful Empire of Guiana, with a Relation of the Great and Golden City of Manoa Which the Spaniards Call El Dorado (1596).
Foreigners, who had become very unpopular in England at the end of the sixteenth century.
Danes Massacre
King Ethelred ordered the massacre of Danish settlers throughout England in 1012.
Prentises . . . rise
There had been several uprisings of London apprentices against foreigners.
By your priesthood tell me what you are
In the late sixteenth century a series of laws were aimed at the Jesuits. A proclamation of 1581 imposed the death penalty on any Jesuits or seminary priests who entered the queen's dominions; four years later, Parliament ordered all Jesuits to leave the kingdom within forty days, under penalty of death. Roman Catholics therefore went underground, prompting authorities to seek them out.
A short jacket.
A tufted tafetta, or thin glossy silk.
Smooth fabric like silk.
Food in general, not only flesh.
Bumbast (or bombast), "Fustian; big words, without meaning" (Johnson).
Mountebankes drugtongue
Mountebank, "A doctor that mounts a bench in the market, and boasts his infallible remedies and cures" (Johnson); drugtongue, "sales talk" or "jargon."
Pay scores
"Settle bills."
Cosen (or cozen), "cheat or defraud."
Jovius, or Surius
Paolo Giovio, Bishop of Nocera, and Laurentius Surius, a Carthusian monk and author of Commentarius brevis rerum in orbe gestarum ab anno 1550 and Vitae sanctorum. Both were Catholic historians. Their descriptions of religious upheavals disturbed Protestants, who accused them of distortion.
An adverb formed from silly, "Harmless; innocent; inoffensive; plain; artless" (Johnson).
Calepines Dictionarie
A polyglot dictionary first published by Ambrose Calepine in 1502. Later editions covered eleven languages.
A Protestant theologian. He translated the New Testament into Latin in 1556.
Our two Academies
Oxford and Cambridge. The two reverend men may be John Reynolds (President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford) and Lancelot Andrewes (Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge).
Apostles . . . linguists
At Pentecost, the Apostles began speaking in tongues.
Panurge is a character in Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel. He spoke a dozen languages.
The word suggests both "travel" and "suffering."
Spartanes . . . drunkards
According to Plutarch, the Spartans discouraged their young from getting drunk by showing them drunken slaves.
Aretines pictures
A series of erotic paintings believed to be by Pietro Aretino, though in fact by Giulio Romano. (Aretino wrote the sonnets which accompanied the pictures.)
That is, "chaste."
King's Street led to the bridge over Long Ditch and into Westminster, the location of the court. For a long time it was the only way to approach Westminster from the north.
"Clapped his hands."
"A manufacturer; a low workman" (Johnson).
I have but one frenchman
Donne apparently had a French servant.
Grosgrain, a heavy silk fabric. Your only wearing suggests "Only grosgrain is worth wearing."
The highest point a falcon reaches on its flight. Here it suggests a high level of diction.
An alchemical device used in distillation.
Semibreve, a musical whole note.
Hollensheads, or Halls, or Stowes
British historians of the sixteenth century. Their disconnected chronicles had fallen out of fashion, especially for mixing trivial gossip with more serious history.
Offices reversion
The succession to an official position.
Some crooked courtiers earned money by selling licenses, or monopolies, for commercial enterprises.
Span-counter, or blow-point
Children's games. Span-counter is like marbles; in blow-point, children play for the "points" or tags that attached the stockings to the jacket.
Wearing cosmetics.
Domestic gossip.
The name of a register of current events.
Since/The Spaniards came
A reference to the Spanish Armada of 1588.
Losse of Amyens
The Spanish took Amiens from the French in March 1597; the French recovered it in September.
Bigge wife
Pregnant woman.
Some manuscripts read "So I belch."
Macaroon, "A coarse, rude, low fellow" (Johnson). Donne's use is the earliest recorded example of the word in English.
Priviledg'd spie
An informer who betrays those from whom he collects information.
Offices . . . Perpetuities
The line of succession for political office has been determined in perpetuity.
Dunkirk was the home of many Channel pirates.
Who loves Whores, who boyes, and who goats
That is, "Who loves whores, who loves boys, and who loves goats."
Circes prisoners
In the Odyssey, Circe holds Odysseus and his men captive for a year, and turns his men into swine.
Burnt . . . sound
Lechers covered with the sores of syphilis. It was believed that the syphilitic could cure themselves by passing the disease to someone else. In several manuscripts, venome is venom'd, which makes the sense clearer.
A quarter of a penny.
To my power
"To the limits of my power."
Can you spare me?
The question means "Can you spare any money?"; the poet interprets it to mean "Can you do without me?"
Five shillings, or a quarter of a pound.
Complementall thankes
The word compliment had taken on a bad sense, associated with the hypocrisy of the court. Donne notes in one of his sermons, "We have a word now denizened and brought into familiar use among us, Complement; and for the most part, in an ill sense; so it is, when the heart of the speaker doth not answer his tongue."
Prerogative of my Crowne
A pun: the phrase usually reserved for the king's privileges here means the power of his money (to get rid of the beggar).
In most manuscripts of the poem, this reads piteous.
Who dreamt he saw hell
Dante, in Inferno.
Befits (as when clothing is "becoming").
Rais'd men
Those elevated to the nobility, as opposed to those born into it.
Waxen garden
Italian puppeteers exhibited artificial gardens made of wax.
A "natural child" was an illegitimate one.
Both "tree trunks" and "lines of descent."
Mews, "stables."
A game in which an inflated ball is struck back and forth with the arm or foot.
Both "a state council" (as in the Diet of Worms) and "a course of food." Since a visit to a brothel is coming, the diet is probably either aphrodisiac or medicinal.
A brothel; a house of prostitution" (Johnson).
Wants reach all states
All social classes have needs.
Me seemes
"It seems to me."
Cheapside books
Cheapside was the tailors' district; their books would list the fashionable men who had accounts with them.
Cohineal, an expensive bright red dye.
That is, "dye."
Traps for birds.
Drugs ill laid
Cosmetics unevenly applied.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus believed that all things were passing; he is therefore known as the weeping philosopher.
Durers rules
Albrecht Dürer described the proportions of the body in Of Human Proportion (1582).
Declares (his love).
Rome . . . Inquisition
"As much protestation as would have made ten cardinals face the Inquisition for being Protestants."
Pursuivant, a court officer, here charged with seeking out and arresting Roman Catholics. One who swears "by Jesu" would be recognized as a Catholic.
Our Ladies psalter
The Rosary.
In old hangings whip Christ
Who in old tapestries are depicted as whipping Jesus.
Hung . . . sinnes
Hampton Court has a series of Flemish tapestries depicting the Seven Deadly Sins.
Ascapart was a thirty-foot giant in the old tales of Sir Bevis of Southampton.
Living barrells of beefe
A reference to the Beefeaters, charged with protecting the queen.
Macchabees modestie
Maccabees, two apocryphal books of the Bible, end on a famously modest note: "And if I have done well, and as is fitting the story, it is that which I desired; but if slenderly and meanly, it is that which I could attain thereto."
The word has several meanings: orthodox; authoritative; admirable.