~ by John Donne
As the sweet sweat of roses in a still,
As that from which chafed muskrats’ pores do trill,
As the Almighty’s balm of the early East,
Such are the sweat drops of my Mistress’ breast.
And on her brow such luster sets,
They seem no sweat drops, but pearl coronets.
Rank sweaty froth thy Mistress’ brow defiles,
Like spermatic issue of ripe menstruous boils,
Or like the scum, by which, need’s lawless law
Enforced, Sanserra’s starved men did draw
From parboiled shoes and boots, and all the rest
Which were with any sovereign fatness blessed,
And, like vile lying stones in saffroned tin,
Or warts, or weals, they hang upon her skin.
Round as the world’s her head, on every side,
Like to the fatal ball that fell on Ide,
Or that whereof God had such jealousy,
As for the ravishing thereof we die.
Thy head is like a rough-hewn statue of jet,
Where marks for eyes, nose, mouth are yet scarce set,
Like the first chaos, or flat-seeming face
Of Cynthia, when the earth’s shadows her embrace.
Like Prosperine’s white beauty-keeping chest,
Or Jove’s best fortune’s urn, is her fair breast.
Thine’s like worm-eaten trunks clothed in sealskin,
Or grave, that’s dust without and stink within.
And like that slender stalk, at whose end stands
The woodbine quivering, are her arms and hands.
Like rough-barked elm boughs, or the russet skin
Of men late scourged for madness or for sin,
Like sun-parched quarters of the city gate,
Such is thy skin’s lamentable state.
And like a bunch of ragged carrots stand
The short swollen fingers of thy gouty hand.
Then like the chemist’s masculine equal fire,
Which in the alembic’s warm womb does inspire
Into the earth’s worthless dirt a soul of gold,
Such cherishing heat her best loved part does hold.
Thine’s like the dread mouth of a fired gun,
Or like hot liquid metals newly run
Into clay molds, or like to that Aetna
Where ’round about the grass is burnt away.
Are not your kisses then as filthy, and more,
As a worm sucking an invenomed sore?
Does not thy fearful hand in feeling quake
As one which, gathering flowers, fears a snake?
Is not your last act harsh and violent,
As when a plough a stony ground does rend?
So kiss good turtles, so devoutly nice
Are priests in handling reverend sacrifice,
And such, in searching wounds, the surgeon is
As we, when we embrace, or touch, or kiss.
Leave her, and I will leave comparing thus,
She and comparisons are odious.
“That which from chafed muskrats pores’ do trill” describes the collection of musk for perfume. Similarly, “the sweet sweat of roses” are distilled for scent-making. The “Almighty’s balm of the early East” indicates dew, I should think. “Vile lying stones in saffroned tin” refer to paste jewelry. The “chemist’s equal, masculine fire which in the alembic does inspire into earth’s worthless dirt a soul of gold” depicts alchemy’s aim of transmuting base minerals to treasure. “Alembic” is the heated vessel in which distillation transpires. “Aetna” is a storied volcano in Sicily. “So kiss good turtles” alludes to turtle doves. Early 17th Century spellings were modernized for this reading. Also, I separated the two objects of address within the poem — the ideal and the profane– where Donne wrote this as one continuous skein of couplets. I wanted the piece to be more accessible to modern readers. For a scholarly edition of this poem see Complete Poetry And Selected Prose Of John Donne, edited by Charles M. Coffin, Modern Library.