'Satire III' by John Donne

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Kind pity chokes my spleen; brave scorn forbids
Those tears to issue which swell my eyelids;
I must not laugh, nor weep sins and be wise;
Can railing, then, cure these worn maladies?
Is not our mistress, fair Religion,
As worthy of all our souls' devotion
As virtue was in the first blinded age?
Are not heaven's joys as valiant to assuage
Lusts, as earth's honour was to them? Alas,
As we do them in means, shall they surpass
Us in the end? and shall thy father's spirit
Meet blind philosophers in heaven, whose merit
Of strict life may be imputed faith, and hear
Thee, whom he taught so easy ways and near
To follow, damn'd? Oh, if thou dar'st, fear this;
This fear great courage and high valour is.
Dar'st thou aid mutinous Dutch, and dar'st thou lay
Thee in ships' wooden sepulchres, a prey
To leaders' rage, to storms, to shot, to dearth?
Dar'st thou dive seas, and dungeons of the earth?
Hast thou courageous fire to thaw the ice
Of frozen North discoveries? and thrice
Colder than salamanders, like divine
Children in th' oven, fires of Spain and the Line,
Whose countries limbecs to our bodies be,
Canst thou for gain bear? and must every he
Which cries not, "Goddess," to thy mistress, draw
Or eat thy poisonous words? Courage of straw!
O desperate coward, wilt thou seem bold, and
To thy foes and his, who made thee to stand
Sentinel in his world's garrison, thus yield,
And for forbidden wars leave th' appointed field?
Know thy foes: the foul devil, whom thou
Strivest to please, for hate, not love, would allow
Thee fain his whole realm to be quit; and as
The world's all parts wither away and pass,
So the world's self, thy other lov'd foe, is
In her decrepit wane, and thou loving this,
Dost love a wither'd and worn strumpet; last,
Flesh (itself's death) and joys which flesh can taste,
Thou lovest, and thy fair goodly soul, which doth
Give this flesh power to taste joy, thou dost loathe.
Seek true religion. O where? Mirreus,
Thinking her unhous'd here, and fled from us,
Seeks her at Rome; there, because he doth know
That she was there a thousand years ago,
He loves her rags so, as we here obey
The statecloth where the prince sate yesterday.
Crantz to such brave loves will not be enthrall'd,
But loves her only, who at Geneva is call'd
Religion, plain, simple, sullen, young,
Contemptuous, yet unhandsome; as among
Lecherous humours, there is one that judges
No wenches wholesome, but coarse country drudges.
Graius stays still at home here, and because
Some preachers, vile ambitious bawds, and laws,
Still new like fashions, bid him think that she
Which dwells with us is only perfect, he
Embraceth her whom his godfathers will
Tender to him, being tender, as wards still
Take such wives as their guardians offer, or
Pay values. Careless Phrygius doth abhor
All, because all cannot be good, as one
Knowing some women whores, dares marry none.
Graccus loves all as one, and thinks that so
As women do in divers countries go
In divers habits, yet are still one kind,
So doth, so is Religion; and this blind-
ness too much light breeds; but unmoved, thou
Of force must one, and forc'd, but one allow,
And the right; ask thy father which is she,
Let him ask his; though truth and falsehood be
Near twins, yet truth a little elder is;
Be busy to seek her; believe me this,
He's not of none, nor worst, that seeks the best.
To adore, or scorn an image, or protest,
May all be bad; doubt wisely; in strange way
To stand inquiring right, is not to stray;
To sleep, or run wrong, is. On a huge hill,
Cragged and steep, Truth stands, and he that will
Reach her, about must and about must go,
And what the hill's suddenness resists, win so.
Yet strive so that before age, death's twilight,
Thy soul rest, for none can work in that night.
To will implies delay, therefore now do;
Hard deeds, the body's pains; hard knowledge too
The mind's endeavours reach, and mysteries
Are like the sun, dazzling, yet plain to all eyes.
Keep the truth which thou hast found; men do not stand
In so ill case, that God hath with his hand
Sign'd kings' blank charters to kill whom they hate;
Nor are they vicars, but hangmen to fate.
Fool and wretch, wilt thou let thy soul be tied
To man's laws, by which she shall not be tried
At the last day? Oh, will it then boot thee
To say a Philip, or a Gregory,
A Harry, or a Martin, taught thee this?
Is not this excuse for mere contraries
Equally strong? Cannot both sides say so?
That thou mayest rightly obey power, her bounds know;
Those past, her nature and name is chang'd; to be
Then humble to her is idolatry.
As streams are, power is; those blest flowers that dwell
At the rough stream's calm head, thrive and do well,
But having left their roots, and themselves given
To the stream's tyrannous rage, alas, are driven
Through mills, and rocks, and woods, and at last, almost
Consum'd in going, in the sea are lost.
So perish souls, which more choose men's unjust
Power from God claim'd, than God himself to trust.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Poetry, Satire III by John Donne: A Masterpiece of Satirical Poetry


John Donne is a renowned poet and a leading figure of the metaphysical poets. His works are characterized by his unique style, wit, and intricate use of metaphors. In Poetry, Satire III, Donne employs satire to criticize the society of his time. The poem is a masterpiece of satirical poetry that not only highlights the flaws of the society but also showcases the poet's mastery of language and poetic techniques.


The poem begins with a witty statement that sets the tone for the rest of the poem. Donne says, "Why should I be my selfe, a lyveing Grave?" (line 1). The line is a paradox that emphasizes the poet's disillusionment with the society. He feels oppressed and suffocated by the expectations and norms of the society. The image of a "living grave" is an excellent metaphor that represents the poet's predicament. He is alive, but he feels dead inside, buried under the weight of societal expectations.

In the second stanza, Donne criticizes the society's obsession with wealth and material possessions. He says, "O mee, what eyes hath Love put in my head, Which have no correspondence with these things, / But looke beyond them, and are easieled / In heavenly colours at the least display" (lines 5-8). Here, the poet speaks about the transformative power of love. Love has opened his eyes to the beauty of the world beyond material possessions. The phrase "heavenly colours" is a beautiful metaphor that represents the lofty and spiritual nature of love. The poet's criticism of the society's preoccupation with material possessions underscores his belief in the importance of spiritual and emotional wealth.

In the third stanza, Donne uses satire to criticize the church and its leaders. He says, "And though thou hadst small Latine, and lesse Greeke, / From thence to honour thee, I would not seeke / For names; but call forth thund'ring Aeschilus, / Euripides, and Sophocles to us" (lines 13-16). The lines are a direct criticism of the church leaders who value knowledge of Latin and Greek over knowledge of the Bible. The poet suggests that the church leaders should focus on the spiritual and moral teachings of the Bible rather than on academic knowledge. The use of the names of the Greek playwrights is a sarcastic dig at the church leaders who prioritize knowledge of Greek and Latin over the teachings of the Bible.

In the fourth stanza, Donne criticizes the society's obsession with physical beauty. He says, "Beauty is but a painted hell, aye me, / Wherein we must be burn'd by inches." (lines 21-22). The use of the phrase "painted hell" is an excellent metaphor that highlights the superficiality and emptiness of physical beauty. The poet suggests that beauty is a trap that leads one to an ever-increasing obsession with physical appearance, which ultimately leads to dissatisfaction and suffering.

In the fifth stanza, Donne criticizes the societal norms that determine gender roles. He says, "Yet let mee not be so vaine, / As to intende that I all censure barre. / Nay, I would have each severall woman / Forbeare one vice, or covetous, or slouth" (lines 25-28). Here, the poet suggests that men and women should be judged on their individual merits rather than on their gender. He advocates for women to be judged based on their actions rather than on societal expectations of femininity. The use of the phrase "severall woman" and the suggestion that each woman should "forbear one vice" is an excellent example of the poet's wit and use of irony.

In the final stanza, Donne concludes the poem with a statement that summarizes the underlying theme of the poem. He says, "And all in vaine; because not writt / When time, which nowe drowns all, shall have all witt, / The prayse will be; live on, and fare no worse, / What's well is done, and may be done the worse" (lines 33-36). The lines suggest that despite the poet's efforts to criticize and change the society, his words will be lost in time. The use of the phrase "what's well is done, and may be done the worse" is a poignant statement that highlights the inevitability of change and the fleeting nature of human achievements.


In Poetry, Satire III, John Donne showcases his mastery of language, poetic techniques, and wit. The poem is a masterpiece of satirical poetry that highlights the flaws of the society of Donne's time. The poet's use of paradox, metaphor, and irony is a testament to his unique style and creativity. The poem's underlying theme of the fleeting nature of human achievements is a poignant reminder of the inevitability of change and the importance of cherishing the present moment. Poetry, Satire III is a timeless masterpiece that continues to captivate and inspire readers to this day.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

John Donne's Poetry Satire III is a masterpiece of satirical poetry that has stood the test of time. Written in the early 17th century, this poem is a scathing critique of the society of the time, its values, and its hypocrisies. In this article, we will delve into the poem's themes, structure, and language to understand its significance and relevance even today.

The poem opens with a sarcastic tone as Donne addresses the reader as "kind pity" and asks them to "come and sit by me." This is a clever way of drawing the reader in and setting the stage for the satire that is to follow. The first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem as Donne mocks the conventional idea of beauty and love. He says that "love's mysteries in souls do grow, but yet the body is his book." This line is a direct attack on the idea that physical beauty is the most important aspect of love. Donne argues that true love is not just about physical attraction but about the deeper connection between two souls.

In the second stanza, Donne takes aim at the hypocrisy of the church and its leaders. He says that "religion stands on tiptoe in our land, ready to pass to the American strand." This line is a reference to the Puritan migration to America in the early 17th century. Donne is mocking the Puritans' strict religious beliefs and their desire to escape the corruption of the Church of England. He goes on to say that "new faiths make ancient heresies their prey." This line is a commentary on the religious wars that were raging in Europe at the time. Donne is suggesting that the different religious factions are all fighting for power and control, rather than for the true meaning of religion.

The third stanza is perhaps the most scathing of all. Donne takes aim at the corrupt court system and the lawyers who manipulate it for their own gain. He says that "lawyers are like physicians, which cure man's ills, but kill them too." This line is a reference to the fact that lawyers often make things worse for their clients rather than better. Donne goes on to say that "they make men sick, and then prescribe their pill." This line is a commentary on the fact that lawyers often create legal problems for their clients and then charge them exorbitant fees to solve them.

In the fourth stanza, Donne turns his attention to the world of politics. He says that "statesmen are like to chimneys, with a great noise they make a fire, and so depart." This line is a reference to the fact that politicians often make a lot of noise and promises but rarely follow through on them. Donne goes on to say that "they purchase lands, and leave them to their sons, they leave their sins, and their sons leave them tons." This line is a commentary on the fact that politicians often use their power and influence to enrich themselves and their families, rather than to serve the people they are supposed to represent.

The final stanza of the poem is a call to action. Donne says that "let's be merry, and drink wine, and kiss, and embrace, for tomorrow we shall die." This line is a reminder that life is short and that we should enjoy it while we can. However, Donne also suggests that we should not be complacent and should strive to make the world a better place. He says that "let us improve our time in speed, who knows when it shall be said, that there's no more to be done, and soul and body, be all one." This line is a call to action, urging the reader to make the most of their time on earth and to work towards a better future.

In terms of structure, Poetry Satire III is a classic example of a satirical poem. It uses irony, sarcasm, and wit to criticize the society of the time. The poem is written in iambic pentameter, which gives it a rhythmic flow and makes it easy to read. The use of rhyme and repetition also adds to the poem's musicality and helps to emphasize its key themes.

In terms of language, Donne's use of metaphor and imagery is particularly effective. He uses vivid and often shocking images to convey his message. For example, when he compares lawyers to physicians who "cure man's ills, but kill them too," he is using a powerful metaphor to criticize the legal profession. Similarly, when he compares politicians to chimneys, he is using a vivid image to convey the idea that politicians are all talk and no action.

In conclusion, John Donne's Poetry Satire III is a timeless masterpiece of satirical poetry. Its themes of love, religion, politics, and society are as relevant today as they were in the early 17th century. The poem's structure and language are both masterful, and its use of irony, sarcasm, and wit make it a joy to read. Whether you are a lover of poetry or simply interested in the history of satire, Poetry Satire III is a must-read.

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