Guest poem submitted by David Wright:
(Poem #1002) The Bait
Come live with me, and be my love, And we will some new pleasures prove Of golden sands, and crystal brooks, With silken lines, and silver hooks. There will the river whispering run Warm'd by thy eyes, more than the sun; And there th'enamour'd fish will stay, Begging themselves they may betray. When thou wilt swim in that live bath, Each fish, which every channel hath, Will amorously to thee swim, Gladder to catch thee, than thou him. If thou, to be so seen, be'st loth, By sun or moon, thou darken'st both, And if myself have leave to see, I need not their light, having thee. Let others freeze with angling reeds, And cut their legs with shells and weeds, Or treacherously poor fish beset, With strangling snare, or windowy net. Let coarse bold hands from slimy nest The bedded fish in banks out-wrest; Or curious traitors, sleave-silk flies, Bewitch poor fishes' wand'ring eyes. For thee, thou need'st no such deceit, For thou thyself art thine own bait: That fish, that is not catch'd thereby, Alas, is wiser far than I.
John Donne takes the conceit in an entirely different direction - this fast & loose & frisky invitation to go skinny-dipping in the river, etc., - a much more enticing invitation than that of Marlowe's shepherd, if you ask me. I've always thought Donne, or the early Donne anyway, is the sexiest of poets. The juiciest of all is that poem on his mistress going to bed, the one with the lines - License my roving hands, and let them go Before, behind, between, above, below. O, my America, my new found land, My kingdom, safeliest when with one man manned, My mine of precious stones, my empery; How blest am I in this discovering thee! To enter in these bonds, is to be free; Then, where my hand is set, my seal shall be. Full nakedness! All joys are due to thee; As souls unbodied, bodies unclothed must be To taste whole joys. Mercy! 'The Bait' is pretty sexy too, all that scintillating stuff about enamoured fish making love to her underwater - like that memorable old Japanese erotic print/netsuke of a woman in the clasp of an octopus - is both titillating and charmingly silly. Once again, clever Donne worships a woman out of her petticoats, and the appeal is not subject to Raleigh's critique, for he promises nothing more than a really fun day of loving and playing on the bank. (Donne's too clever for the lot of them - I expect anyone writing a response to or a parody of Donne would find himself anatomized in one of his wonderfully scathing satires). The big metaphor of her as a baited hook is proverbial, but Donne seems to think he can get the bait off that hook and get away, or else that he will be happily caught. David. [thomas adds] "The Bait" was going to be the third poem in a series, following Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" and Sir Walter Raleigh's "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd" on the Minstrels. But David's excellent commentary has left with me little to add, so I'll content myself with a few expository notes. Most of these, incidentally, are based on the annotations provided by A. J. Smith to the Penguin edition of Donne's complete poems. [Notes] Several manuscripts describe this poem as being written to match a melody that pre-dated Donne; sadly, no contemporary musical setting of "The Bait" has survived. (Though do check out Minstrels Poem #565, Thomas Campion's "Now Winter Nights Enlarge", a poem/song written around the same time as "The Bait"; a version for lute is available at [broken link] http://www.albany.net/~dowland/sound.html). "The Bait" varies Marlowe's "Passionate Shepherd" (1599) and Raleigh's "Nymph's Reply" (1600) (see links below). In "The Compleat Angler" (1655), Izaak Walton has a milkmaid sing Marlowe's lines, her mother sing Raleigh's reply, and Venator gives Donne's poem as 'a copy of verses thet were made by Doctor Donne, and made to show the world that he could make soft and smooth verses, when he though fit and worth his labour'. It's worth keeping in mind that Walton's parish pastor was none other than John Donne... "When thou wilt swim in that live bath Each fish, which every channel hath, Will amorously to thee swim" The lady's power to attract the fish when she bathed was a common conceit in the erotic poetry of the time; witness the following: "Then quickly strip thyself! Lay fear aside! For of this dainty prey, which thou shalt take; Both sea, fish, and thyself, thou glad shalt make." -- R. Tofte, "Laura" (1597), II, 37 "If thou, to be so seen, be'st loth, By sun or moon, thou darken'st both, i.e., you outshine both sun and moon in your beauty. "curious" - artfully made. "sleave-silk flies" - artificial flies made out of the threads of sleaved (unravelled) silk. [Minstrels Links] This week's theme is Love Poetry: Poem #997, The Passionate Shepherd to His Love -- Christopher Marlowe Poem #998, A Blade of Grass -- Brian Patten Poem #999, Casabianca -- Elizabeth Bishop Poem #1001, The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd -- Sir Walter Raleigh Poem #1002, The Bait -- John Donne There is of course no shortage of love poetry in the Minstrels archives; see http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/ for a full list. John Donne, one of my favourite poets: Poem #330, A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning Poem #384, Song Poem #403, A Lame Beggar Poem #465, The Sun Rising Poem #796, Death Be Not Proud (Holy Sonnets: X) Poem #866, The Canonization Poem #1002, The Bait