Archive for John Dunne

“The Whale”, by John Donne

Posted in Literature with tags , , , on August 2, 2022 by telescoper

A beached Sperm Whale (Dutch woodcut, 1598)

At every stroake his brazen finnes do take,
More circles in the broken sea they make
Than cannons’ voices; when the aire they teare:
His ribs are pillars, and his high arch’d roofe
Of barke that blunts best steele, is thunder-proofe:
Swimme in him swallow’d Dolphins, without feare,
And feele no sides, as if his vast wombe were
Some inland sea, and ever as he went
He spouted rivers up, as if he meant
To joyne our seas, with seas above the firmament.

He hunts not fish but as an officer,
Stayes in his court, at his own net, and there
All suitors of all sorts themselves enthrall;
So on his backe lies this whale wantoning,
And in his gulfe-like throat, sucks every thing
That passeth neare. Fish chaseth fish, and all,
Flyer and follower, in this whirlpool fall;
O might not states of more equality
Consist? and is it of necessity
That thousand guiltlesse smals, to make one great, must die?


These are Stanzas XXXII and XXXIII from “Metempsycosis” by John Donne (1572-1631); posted because they feature in the programme I watched yesterday.