John Donne on the Lures of Love in Difficult Times

John Donne was a gifted poet and reluctant religious figure. Donne was born in London, to Roman Catholic parents, in 1572. His family suffered directly from the Church of England’s repression of Catholics. Donne, himself, converted to Anglicanism, and subsequently received financial support for his poetry and even served in Parliament.  He became an Anglican priest, at the insistence of King James I. He died n 1631, just as James’ son and successor, Charles I, was experienced increasing resistance from religious and political dissenters, especially the Puritans and other Calvinist Protestants. Charles, of course, was beheaded in 1649, by the then Anglican dominated Parliament.

John Donne, c. 1595. Artist unknown.

John Donne, c. 1595. Artist unknown.

Donne lived a full life; he was well-educated, he travelled extensively, and he served in the navy. No doubt, these and other experiences, and the forced self-examination of his religious stance, contributed to the quality of his poetry. He is perhaps best known for his Devotions upon Emergent Occasions. “The Bait” is an earlier poem and is written in response to Christopher Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” (1599).

Illustration of Piscator and Venator, by Arthur Rackham. From Rackham's 1931 illustrated edition of The Compleat Angler.

Illustration of Piscator and Venator, by Arthur Rackham. From Rackham’s 1931 illustrated edition of The Compleat Angler.

Donne was clearly a respected author in his lifetime, though his fame was no doubt helped along by Isaac Walton. Most of us know Walton as the author of The Compleat Angler, or The Contemplative Man’s Recreation (1653). However, he also published a biography of Donne in 1640. Moreover, Walton later included “The Bait” in The Complete Angler. In this text, his character Viator says he loves Donne’s verses “because they allude to rivers, and fish, and fishing.”  Following is “The  Bait.”

The Bait

Come live with me, and be my love,
And we will some new pleasures prove
Of golden sands, and crystal brooks,
With silken lines, and silver hooks.

There will the river whispering run
Warm’d by thy eyes, more than the sun;
And there th’enamour’d fish will stay,
Begging themselves they may betray.

When thou wilt swim in that live bath,
Each fish, which every channel hath,
Will amorously to thee swim,
Gladder to catch thee, than thou him.

If thou, to be so seen, be’st loth,
By sun or moon, thou darken’st both,
And if myself have leave to see,
I need not their light, having thee.

Let others freeze with angling reeds,
And cut their legs with shells and weeds,
Or treacherously poor fish beset,
With strangling snare, or windowy net.

Let coarse bold hands from slimy nest
The bedded fish in banks out-wrest;
Or curious traitors, sleave-silk flies,
Bewitch poor fishes’ wand’ring eyes.

For thee, thou need’st no such deceit,
For thou thyself art thine own bait:
That fish, that is not catch’d thereby,
Alas, is wiser far than I.

2 Responses to “John Donne on the Lures of Love in Difficult Times”

  1. rivertoprambles Says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I’ve been a Donne fan since my college days, remembering his connection to Walton and others, but had pretty much forgotten this poem.

    Like

  2. Kenov Says:

    No doubt, his work has stood the test of time for good reason. Certainly, he was an interesting man, as well.

    Like

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