Our storm is past, and that storm’s tyrannous rage,
A stupid calm, but nothing it, doth ’suage.
The fable is inverted, and far more
A block afflicts, now, than a stork before.
Storms chafe, and soon wear out themselves, or us;
In calms, Heaven laughs to see us languish thus.
As steady’as I can wish that my thoughts were,
Smooth as thy mistress’ glass, or what shines there,
The sea is now; and, as the isles which we
Seek, when we can move, our ships rooted be.
As water did in storms, now pitch runs out;
As lead, when a fir’d church becomes one spout.
And all our beauty, and our trim, decays,
Like courts removing, or like ended plays.
The fighting-place now seamen’s rags supply;
And all the tackling is a frippery.
No use of lanthorns; and in one place lay
Feathers and dust, to-day and yesterday.
Earth’s hollownesses, which the world’s lungs are,
Have no more wind than the upper vault of air.
We can nor lost friends nor sought foes recover,
But meteor-like, save that we move not, hover.
Only the calenture together draws
Dear friends, which meet dead in great fishes’ jaws;
And on the hatches, as on altars, lies
Each one, his own priest, and own sacrifice.
Who live, that miracle do multiply,
Where walkers in hot ovens do not die.
If in despite of these we swim, that hath
No more refreshing than our brimstone bath;
But from the sea into the ship we turn,
Like parboil’d wretches, on the coals to burn.
Like Bajazet encag’d, the shepherds’ scoff,
Or like slack-sinew’d Samson, his hair off,
Languish our ships. Now as a myriad
Of ants durst th’ emperor’s lov’d snake invade,
The crawling gallies, sea-gaols, finny chips,
Might brave our pinnaces, now bed-rid ships.
Whether a rotten state, and hope of gain,
Or to disuse me from the queasy pain
Of being belov’d and loving, or the thirst
Of honour, or fair death, out-push’d me first,
I lose my end; for here, as well as I,
A desperate may live, and a coward die.
Stag, dog, and all which from or towards flies,
Is paid with life or prey, or doing dies.
Fate grudges us all, and doth subtly lay
A scourge, ’gainst which we all forget to pray.
He that at sea prays for more wind, as well
Under the poles may beg cold, heat in hell.
What are we then? How little more, alas,
Is man now, than before he was? He was
Nothing; for us, we are for nothing fit;
Chance, or ourselves, still disproportion it.
We have no power, no will, no sense; I lie,
I should not then thus feel this misery.
I will admit that before reading The Calm, my favourite John Donne was the holy sonnet Batter my heart, three-person’d God.
For some reason I often find myself drawn to poetry that involves some element of the sea; it is like the lull of the words creates a sense of being at the beach and hearing the waves crashing off to my side. Dramatic, yes, but that is the image these kinds of poems conjure for me.
I’m not entirely sure what this poem makes me think about, but it does make me think. It makes me feel calm, although perhaps that is more to do with the imagery I just mentioned. It makes me want to curl up in a corner and read all of my favourite poetry, because this is an example of how poetry should be done; it’s beautiful.
This poem may technically be about political and social criticism but there’s something very comforting about it to me, which is odd, since I often find poetry that uses a lot of religious themes difficult to understand, or just get. Perhaps it’s John Donne’s particular style of writing that is resonating with me more than anything else; I’m going to spend the next hour or so seeking his other stuff out, to see if that theory is correct 🙂