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John Donne John Donne


Poet and Priest


Part 5: Marriage to Ann More

NARRATOR: Parliament was dissolved on 19th December.  By this time Donne was a married man.  As he was living in lodgings near the Savoy, it is likely the wedding would have taken place in the hospital chapel.   This would have been an ideal location as it lay within what was termed a "liberty" free from civil and ecclesiastical jurisdiction.  It is believed that Donne himself wrote:
DONNE: Doctor Donne after he was married to a Maid, whose name was Anne, in a frolic chalked this on the back-side of his kitchen door, "John Donne, Anne Donne, Undone".
NARRATOR: Crucially Anne was still a minor and could not marry without parental consent.  After the wedding Anne returned to her father for Christmas at Losely.  Donne's new father in law was a short man with a short fuse and Donne was terrified.  He fell ill, his nerve broke and on 2nd February he wrote to Sir George:
DONNE: Sir, If a very respective fear of your displeasure did not increase my illness as that I cannot stir, I had taken the boldness to have done the office of this letter by waiting upon you myself.

I know this letter shall find you full of passion, but I know no passion can alter your reason and wisdom.
NARRATOR: Worried about his future job prospects and knowing that Sir George could influence his brother-in-law, he continued: 
DONNE: If you incense Sir Thomas, you destroy her and me; that is easy to give us happiness, and that my endeavours and industry, if it please you to prosper them, may soon make me somewhat worthier of her.
NARRATOR: Not daring to deliver the letter himself his choice of emissary, was not the most tactful.  The Catholic Lord Percy of Northumberland's ancestor, the seventh Earl had led a rebellion against Queen Elizabeth in 1569.  The strongly Protestant Sir George hastened to do exactly what Donne had feared, to insist upon the Secretary's dismissal, and generally wreck his son-in-law's life.  Sir Thomas Egerton was a stern moralist.  Within a few days Donne not only found himself dismissed; but was arrested and thrown into the Fleet prison.

He wrote again to his father-in-law, promising:
DONNE: All my endeavours and the whole course of my life shall be bent to make myself worthy of your favour and her love, whose peace of conscience I know must be much wounded, if your displeasure sever us.
NARRATOR: The next day Donne wrote to Sir Thomas, pleading:
DONNE: If you would be pleased to lessen that correction, which your just wisdom has destined for me.
NARRATOR: Sir Thomas relented and had Donne removed from prison and confined to his lodgings.

Meanwhile Sir George was determined to extricate his daughter from the marriage.  He had a strong case as they had married in Advent and without parental consent.  Meeting Sir George at the Commission hearing Donne had a chance to mollify him a little with his natural charm.

However he was still left without prospects or an income.  During the tense weeks of waiting for judgement Donne had written The Canonization:
DONNE: FOR God's sake hold your tongue, and let me love;
Or chide my palsy, or my gout;
My five gray hairs, or ruin'd fortune flout;
With wealth your state, your mind with arts improve;
Take you a course, get you a place,
Observe his Honour, or his Grace ;
Or the king's real, or his stamp'd face
Contemplate ; what you will, approve,
So you will let me love.

Alas ! alas ! who's injured by my love?
What merchant's ships have my sighs drown'd?
Who says my tears have overflow'd his ground?
When did my colds a forward spring remove?
When did the heats which my veins fill
Add one more to the plaguy bill?
Soldiers find wars, and lawyers find out still
Litigious men, which quarrels move,
Though she and I do love.

Call's what you will, we are made such by love;
Call her one, me another fly,
We're tapers too, and at our own cost die,
And we in us find th' eagle and the dove.
The phoenix riddle hath more wit
By us ; we two being one, are it;
So, to one neutral thing both sexes fit.
We die and rise the same, and prove
Mysterious by this love.

We can die by it, if not live by love,
And if unfit for tomb or hearse
Our legend be, it will be fit for verse;
And if no piece of chronicle we prove,
We'll build in sonnets pretty rooms;
As well a well-wrought urn becomes
The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs,
And by these hymns, all shall approve
Us canonized for love;

And thus invoke us, "You, whom reverend love
Made one another's hermitage;
You, to whom love was peace, that now is rage;
Who did the whole world's soul contract, and drove
Into the glasses of your eyes;
So made such mirrors, and such spies,
That they did all to you epitomize -
Countries, towns, courts beg from above
A pattern of your love."
NARRATOR: Late in April the Court that spoke with the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury finally ruled the marriage was valid in the eyes of the established church.
Pyrford, John and Ann's first home
John and Anne were outsiders with nothing to live on and would have had nowhere to live, had not Anne's 19 year old cousin, Francis Wooley come to their rescue and lent them rent free his house at Pyrford in Surrey.

Pyrford, John and Ann's first home
Losely Park was nearby and the couple worked tentatively on building bridges with Sir George.  Perhaps Sir George was secretly proud of having such a man of letters in the family.  He himself was an amateur scholar having written A Demonstration of God in his Works, in which he urged the bridegroom and bride to rise early and get out in the sunshine.

Possibly in reply Donne wrote The Sun Rising, but probably not for Sir George's eyes!
DONNE: Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run ?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Thy beams so reverend, and strong
Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long.
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and to-morrow late tell me,
Whether both th' Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou left'st them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, "All here in one bed lay."

She's all states, and all princes I;
Nothing else is;
Princes do but play us ; compared to this,
All honour's mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world's contracted thus;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere.
NARRATOR: One of Donne's concerns was constancy.  Perhaps because he had loved and left so many women, he feared the same treatment from Ann.  Perhaps this fear inspired his poem, Woman's Constancy.
DONNE: Now thou hast loved me one whole day,
To-morrow when thou leavest, what wilt thou say ?
Wilt thou then antedate some new-made vow ?
Or say that now
We are not just those persons which we were ?
Or that oaths made in reverential fear
Of Love, and his wrath, any may forswear ?
Or, as true deaths true marriages untie,
So lovers' contracts, images of those,
Bind but till sleep, death's image, them unloose ?
Or, your own end to justify,
For having purposed change and falsehood, you
Can have no way but falsehood to be true ?
Vain lunatic, against these 'scapes I could
Dispute, and conquer, if I would ;
Which I abstain to do,
For by to-morrow I may think so too.
NARRATOR: On the other hand in Love's Infiniteness he was able to take a less fearsome and more enduring view of love.  Indeed much of his love poetry can be interpreted as a straining after God:
DONNE: If yet I have not all thy love,
Dear, I shall never have it all,
I cannot breathe one other sigh, to move,
Nor can entreat one other tear to fall,
And all my treasure, which should purchase thee,
Sighs, tears, and oaths, and letters I have spent.
Yet no more can be due to me,
Than at the bargain made was meant;
If then thy gift of love were partial,
That some to me, some should to others fall,
Dear, I shall never have thee all.

Or if then thou gavest me all,
All was but all, which thou hadst then;
But if in thy heart, since, there be or shall
New love created be, by other men,
Which have their stocks entire, and can in tears,
In sighs, in oaths, and letters outbid me,
This new love may beget new fears,
For, this love was not vowed by thee.
And yet it was, thy gift being general;
The ground, thy heart, is mine, whatever shall
Grow there, dear, I should have it all.

Yet I would not have all yet;
He that hath all can have no more,
And since my love doth every day admit
New growth, thou shouldst have new rewards in store;
Thou canst not every day give me thy heart,
If thou canst give it, then thou never gavest it:
Love's riddles are, that though thy heart depart,
It stays at home, and thou with losing savest it:
But we will have a way more liberal,
Than changing hearts, to join them, so we shall
Be one, and one another's all.
NARRATOR: When John and Ann's first child was born in 1603 they named her Constance.

Part 6: Thwarted Ambition and the Journal of a Soul

Contents of Donne Pages.

Home Page

We recommend four biographies: the outstanding Donne, The Reformed Soul by John Stubbs.  Robert Nye writes: "It is the best life of Donne, which I for one have ever read.  If this marvellous book doesn't win one of the major literary prizes,then we have the wrong judges."  We also recommend Man of Flesh and Spirit by David L Edwards, former Speaker's Chaplain in the House of Commons, and John Donne, Life, Mind and Art by John Carey, former Chairman of the Manbooker Prize and very successful beekeeper, and of course the first biography by Izaak Walton, who also wrote the classic, The Compleat Angler.