Saturday, November 17, 2012

John Donne: Witchcraft by a Picture

I fix mine eye on thine, and there
    Pity my picture burning in thine eye,
My picture drowned in a transparent tear,
    When I look lower I espy;
        Hadst thou the wicked skill
By pictures made and marred, to kill,
How many ways mightst thou perform thy will?

But now I have drunk thy sweet salt tears,
    And though thou pour more I'll depart;
My picture vanished, vanish fears,
    That I can be endamaged by that art;
        Though thou retain of me
One picture more, yet that will be,
Being in thine own heart, from all malice free.


I love how Donne seems always to be in perfect control of the force of his words.

The first stanza is like a hammer.  The unrelenting rhythms drive home the meaning, reinforced by intense internal word play.  It's compellingly creepy, and reminds me a bit of Poe.

But then those last lines completely fall flat. The rhythm is off, the rhymes are trite, the grammar is strained, ambiguous, and redundant.

I don't believe him, and I don't think he does either.

But of course that's the whole point.

Maybe its true, maybe it isn't... who cares?  He's gone.

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