The History and Future of the Book

Coterie poetry: 16th/17th century

TO HIS MISTRESS GOING TO BED. [from The Complete Poems (1872): ELEGIES]
John Donne, 1572-1631

Come, Madam, come, all rest my powres defie,
Untill I labour, I in labour lye.
The foe ofttymes, havinge the foe in sight,
Is tir'd with standinge, though he never fight.
Off with that gyrdle, like heavn's zone glysteringe,
But a farr fayrer world incompassinge.
Unpin that spangled brestplate, which you weare,
That the eyes of busy fools might be stopt there;
Unlace yourselfe, for that (your woman's chyme)
Tells me from you, that now 'tis your bedtime.
Off with that happy busk, which I envye,
That still can bee, and still can stand so nigh.
Your gowne goeing off such bewteous state reveales,
As when from flowry meads th'hill's shadowe steals.
Off with your wirie coronett, and showe
The hairye diadems which on you doe growe:
Off with your hose and shooes, then safely tread
In this Love's hallow'd temple, this soft bedd.
In such white robes heaven's angels use to bee
Perceiv'd by men; thou angell bring'st with thee
A heaven-like Mahomet's paradice; and though
Ill spirits walke in whyte, we easily know
By this, these angels from an evill sprite;
Those sett our hayre, but these our flesh upright.

License my roaving hands, and let them goe
Behynd, before, betweene, above, belowe.
Oh my America! my Newfoundland!
My kingdom, safest when with one man man'd.
My myne of precious stones! my emperie!
How blest am I, in thus discoveringe thee!
To enter in those bonds is to be free;
That where my hand is sett my seale shalbee.

Full nakednes! all joyes are due to thee;
As sowles unbodyed bodyes uncloth'd must bee,
To tast whole joyes. Gems, which you women use,
Are, as Atlanta's balls, cast in men's viewes;
That when a foole's eye lighteth on a gemm,
His earthly sowle might covet those, not them:
Like pictures or like books' gay coverings made
For lay-men, are all women thus arraide.
Themselves are only mistique books, which wee
(Whome their imputed grace will dignifie)
Must see revail'd. Then since that I may know,
As liberally as to a midwife showe
Thyselfe; cast all, yea ye white lynen hence;
There is no penance due to inocence.
To teach thee, I'le be naked first; why, than
What needs thou haue more covering then a man?


London : printed by M[iles]. F[lesher]. for Iohn Marriot, 1633.

Virtually all of Donne's poems circulated only in hand-written copies during his lifetime. This is the first appearance in print of most of the poems, published two years after the author's death.

The book was reprinted a number of times through the 17th century (1635, 1639, 1649, 1650, 1654, and 1669). The book was not a stable collection, however, and the poems included varied from one edition to another. "To His Mistress Going to Bed" was not included until the 1669 edition.