'Elegy XVI: On His Mistress' by John Donne

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By our first strange and fatal interview,
By all desires which thereof did ensue,
By our long starving hopes, by that remorse
Which my words' masculine persuasive force
Begot in thee, and by the memory
Of hurts, which spies and rivals threatened me,
I calmly beg: but by thy father's wrath,
By all pains, which want and divorcement hath,
I conjure thee, and all the oaths which I
And thou have sworn to seal joint constancy,
Here I unswear, and overswear them thus,
Thou shalt not love by ways so dangerous.
Temper, O fair Love, love's impetuous rage,
Be my true Mistress still, not my feigned Page;
I'll go, and, by thy kind leave, leave behind
Thee, only worthy to nurse in my mind
Thirst to come back; O if thou die before,
My soul from other lands to thee shall soar.
Thy (else Almighty) beauty cannot move
Rage from the Seas, nor thy love teach them love,
Nor tame wild Boreas' harshness; thou hast read
How roughly he in pieces shivered
Fair Orithea, wbom he swore he loved.
Fall ill or good, 'tis madness to have proved
Dangers unurged; feed on this flattery,
That absent Lovers one in th' other be.
Dissemble nothing, not a boy, nor change
Thy body's habit, nor mind's; be not strange
To thyself only; all will spy in thy face
A blushing womanly discovering grace;
Ricbly clothed Apes are called Apes, and as soon
Eclipsed as bright we call the Moon the Moon.
Men of France, changeable chameleons,
Spitals of diseases, shops of fashions,
Love's fuellers, and the rightest company
Of Players, which upon the world's stage be,
Will quickly know thee, and no less, alas!
Th' indifferent Italian, as we pass
His warm land, well content to think thee Page,
Will hunt thee with such lust, and hideous rage,
As Lot's fair guests were vexed. But none of these
Nor spongy hydroptic Dutch shall thee displease,
If thou stay here. O stay here, for, for thee
England is only a worthy gallery,
To walk in expectation, till from thence
Our greatest King call thee to his presence.
When I am gone, dream me some happiness,
Nor let thy looks our long-hid love confess,
Nor praise, nor dispraise me, nor bless nor curse
Openly love's force, nor in bed fright thy Nurse
With midnight's startings, crying out-oh, oh
Nurse, O my love is slain, I saw him go
O'er the white Alps alone; I saw him, I,
Assailed, fight, taken, stabbed, bleed, fall, and die.
Augur me better chance, except dread Jove
Think it enough for me t' have had thy love.

Editor 1 Interpretation

John Donne's Elegy XVI: On His Mistress

John Donne's "Elegy XVI: On His Mistress" is a heartfelt poem that explores the themes of love, loss, and mourning. Written in the 16th century, the poem is a classic example of Renaissance literature, with its complex metaphors and intricate language. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will analyze the poem in detail, exploring its meaning, structure, and style.

The Poem's Structure and Style

"Elegy XVI: On His Mistress" is a poem written in the elegiac tradition, which is a form of poetry that is typically associated with mourning and loss. The poem has a very structured form, with six stanzas of varying length, each containing four lines. The rhyme scheme is ABAB, and the meter is iambic pentameter. The poem's language is highly metaphorical, with Donne using analogies and comparisons to convey the depth of his emotions.

One of the most striking features of the poem is its use of conceits, which are elaborate metaphors that compare two seemingly unrelated things. For example, in the first stanza, Donne compares his love for his mistress to a "globe of death," suggesting that his love is all-encompassing and all-consuming, like the inevitability of death. Throughout the poem, Donne uses a variety of conceits to explore the different facets of his love and loss.

Analysis of the Poem

"Elegy XVI: On His Mistress" is a poem that explores the complex emotions of love and loss. The poem begins with Donne expressing his profound love for his mistress, using the metaphor of a "globe of death" to suggest that his love is all-encompassing and all-consuming. He goes on to describe his mistress's beauty, using vivid imagery to convey the depth of his feelings.

However, the poem takes a darker turn in the second stanza, as Donne laments the loss of his mistress. He compares his grief to that of the biblical figure Job, who famously suffered a great deal of loss and hardship. Donne suggests that his own grief is just as profound, and that he is struggling to come to terms with the loss of his beloved.

The third stanza of the poem is perhaps the most memorable, as Donne uses a striking conceit to explore his feelings of loss. He compares his heart to a "martyr'd soldier," suggesting that his heart has been wounded and is suffering. However, he goes on to say that his heart is also like a soldier who has been killed in battle, and who has now gone to heaven to be with his maker. This comparison is both beautiful and tragic, suggesting that Donne is both mourning the loss of his mistress and finding solace in the thought that she is now in a better place.

The fourth and fifth stanzas of the poem continue to explore the theme of loss, with Donne using a series of elaborate metaphors to convey the depth of his grief. In the fourth stanza, he compares his tears to a "flood" that is threatening to overwhelm him. In the fifth stanza, he compares his grief to that of a ship that has been lost at sea, suggesting that he is lost and adrift without his beloved.

However, the poem ends on a note of hope, as Donne suggests that his love for his mistress will endure even in death. He compares his love to the phoenix, a mythical bird that is said to rise from the ashes of its own destruction. This comparison suggests that Donne believes that his love for his mistress will endure even in the face of death, and that he will continue to hold her memory dear.


"Elegy XVI: On His Mistress" is a poem that explores the complex emotions of love and loss. Through its use of vivid imagery, intricate metaphors, and striking conceits, the poem conveys the depth of Donne's emotions, as he mourns the loss of his beloved. However, the poem also suggests that love can endure even in death, and that the memory of a loved one can live on long after they are gone. Overall, "Elegy XVI: On His Mistress" is a beautiful and poignant poem that continues to resonate with readers today, nearly 500 years after it was written.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

John Donne’s Elegy XVI: On His Mistress is a classic poem that has been studied and analyzed by scholars and poetry enthusiasts for centuries. This poem is a beautiful and poignant tribute to a lover who has passed away, and it is filled with rich imagery, metaphors, and emotions that capture the essence of love and loss.

The poem begins with the speaker addressing his mistress, who has recently died. He describes her as a “true saint” and a “virtuous woman,” and he laments the fact that she has been taken from him too soon. The speaker’s grief is palpable, and he expresses his sorrow in a way that is both heartfelt and eloquent.

One of the most striking aspects of this poem is the way in which Donne uses metaphors and imagery to convey his emotions. For example, he compares his mistress to a “diamond” that has been taken from him, and he describes her as a “star” that has fallen from the sky. These metaphors are powerful because they evoke a sense of loss and longing, and they help to create a vivid and memorable image of the speaker’s grief.

Another important aspect of this poem is the way in which Donne explores the theme of mortality. He acknowledges that death is an inevitable part of life, and he recognizes that his mistress’s death is a reminder of his own mortality. However, he also suggests that love can transcend death, and that the memory of his mistress will live on even after she is gone.

Throughout the poem, Donne also explores the theme of spirituality. He describes his mistress as a “true saint” and a “virtuous woman,” and he suggests that her death has brought her closer to God. This theme is particularly significant because Donne himself was a deeply religious man, and his poetry often reflects his spiritual beliefs.

In addition to its themes and imagery, Elegy XVI: On His Mistress is also notable for its use of language and form. Donne’s poetry is known for its complex and intricate language, and this poem is no exception. The poem is filled with rich and evocative language, and it is structured in a way that is both elegant and sophisticated.

Overall, Elegy XVI: On His Mistress is a beautiful and moving poem that explores the themes of love, loss, mortality, and spirituality. Its rich imagery, powerful metaphors, and eloquent language make it a classic example of Donne’s poetry, and it continues to be studied and appreciated by readers and scholars around the world.

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