The Canonization

by John 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.”

John Donne’s “The Canonization” has been my poem of the month- I’ve been yelling this at truckers swerving into my lane as I drive to school, muttering it under my breath when I’m moments away from pulling a Vesuvius at work, and quoting it to myself when I’m lying in bed frantically listing all the things I have to get done. I love this poem.

I love the sheer condescension in the first stanza as the speaker suggests alternate amusements for his critics; I love the wit in the second stanza as he ennumerates all of the bad things in the world that his love didn’t cause- sunk ships, flooded fields, funky seasons, the plague; I love the jokes (“to die” is a euphanism for having an orgasm in Elizabethan England. Now re-read stanzas 3 and 4. Hee hee . Yes, I’m twelve.); I love the imagery: “if no piece of chronicle we prove, we’ll build in sonnets pretty rooms….” I want to live in a pretty sonnet-room. I bet cats don’t get hairballs in pretty sonnet-rooms.

But mostly, I love the sentiment. That last stanza– “You, whom reverend love made one another’s hermitage”–that’s just gorgeous. I’d embroider that on a pillow if I were an embroidering-kind of girl.  And honestly, that’s what I think love is– not all the roses and chocolates (though lord knows I love getting presents) or flowery language (love that too),  but somebody who helps you recover your calm, your sense of self, when you are oh-so tempest-tossed.

So, to those who keep me stable when the tempest tosses…

Happy Valentine’s Day

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