From Metempsycosis


by John Donne


Into an embryon fish our Soul is thrown,
And in due time thrown out again, and grown
To such vastness, as if unmanacled
From Greece Morea were, and that by some
Earthquake unrooted, loose Morea swum,
Or seas from Afric’s body had severed
And torn the hopeful Promontory’s head,
This fish would seem these, and, when all hopes fail,
A great ship overset, or without sail
Hulling, might be like this whale.


At every stroke his brazen fins do take,
More circles in the broken sea they make
Than cannons’ voices, when the air they tear:
His ribs are pillars, and his high arch’d roof
Of bark that blunts best steel is thunder-proof:
Swim in him swallowed Dolphins, without fear,
And feel no sides, as if his vast womb were
Some inland sea, and ever as he went
He spouted rivers up, as if he meant
To join our seas with seas above the firmament.


He hunts not fish, but as an officer
Stays in his court, at his own net, and there
All suitors of all sorts themselves enthrall;
So on his back lies this whale wantoning,
And in his gulf-like throat sucks every thing
That passeth near; 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 guiltless smalls, to make one great, must die?


About the Author

John Donne (22 January 1572 – 31 March 1631) was an English poet.

Text Details

From “Metempsycosis” (1633). Thanks to The Pulter Project.

Image Details

From The Ashmole Bestiary (c. 1200).

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