The poet, John Donne wrote the poem, “Satyre I” as part of his first publication of poetry, entitled Satire. The word satire comes from Latin satura lanx and means “medley, dish of colorful fruits.” Satire is often strictly defined as a literary genre. In satire, human or individual vices, follies, abuses, or shortcomings are held up to censure by means of ridicule, derision and most importantly irony. Ideally, satire is used with the intent for improvements. Satire is usually funny, but the purpose of satire is an attack on something of which the author disapproves or finds hypocritical within society. The satire is usually achieved through the use of wit.
The satire is commonly framed within a vein of irony. A satire may present itself as sarcastic, parody, exaggeration, juxtaposition, analogy and double entendre. The essential ingredient in satire is irony. The irony professes to approve of the thing the satirist wishes to deny.
There are two forms of satire: Horatian and Juvenalian. The Horatian is named for the Roman satirist, Horace. The Horatian satire is playful. It criticizes a societal vice. The vice is usually identified as foolish rather than evil. The tools employed in the Horatian satire include wit, exaggeration and self-deprecating humor. The tone of the satire may be sympathetic.
The other satire is the Juvenalian. The Juvenalian is named after the Roman satirist Juvenal. The Juvenalian satire is more contemptuous and abrasive. The Juvenalian satire seeks to disavow some evil vice in society through scorn, outrage and savage ridicule. The tools employed in the Juvenalian satire include irony, sarcasm, moral indignation and personal invectiveness. The Juvenalian has less emphasis on humor, and is more pessimistic in tone.
The poet opens with “Away thou fondling motley humorist” (1). In Medieval Ages, “Fondling motley humorist is one of the four chief fluids or cardinal humors of the body. The four fluids of the body include blood, phlegm, choler, and melancholy or black choler. The “choler” is bile. Through those four bodily fluids, a person’s physical and mental qualities and disposition can be determined. The poet requests the caressing and endearing mixture of sexual fluids to vanish.
“Leave mee, and in this standing wooden chest” (2), a chest was a room or library. In this case, the “standing wooden chest” provides an image similar to a coffin (2). Since the chest is “standing,” it is large enough for a body (2). He wishes for the woman to leave him alone. “Consorted with these few bookes, let me lye” (3). To be “consorted” is to be in tune with harmony, harmonious with these few “bookes” (3). A “book” is referring to a book of cardinal knowledge. Accordingly, the poet has a few books of cardinal knowledge, or women in bed with him. The speaker wishes to lye in “Prison, ‘and here be coffin’d, when I dye” (4). A “prison” means the condition of being kept in captivity and confinement (4). The poet desires to be forcibly deprived of personal liberty. He wants the bed to be a place of incarceration until he dies. In the bed, the poet wants to be “coffin’d” (4). To be “coffin’d” is to be placed in a coffin (4).
The poet views the women and says, “Here are Gods conduits” (5). To be “Gods conduit” is to be a direct channel or pipeline for the conveyance of God’s water or other liquids, an aqueduct or canal (5). To be “Gods conduit” is to provide the liquid which fulfills God’s wishes and desires (5). “Gods conduits” are “grave Divines” (5). To be a “grave Divine” is to be a woman of import and influential, well respected (5). To be a “grave Divine” is to be a woman that is sanction by and inspired by God (5).
The poet says, “Here … Natures Secretary, the Philosopher” (6). Here lies the secretary of nature, the philosopher. Here lies the “jolly Statesmen, which teach how to tie the sinews of a cities mystique bodie” (7-8). Here lies a bright and gay, showy and splendid leader in the affairs of the state or political body. She is skilled in the management of public affairs. She will instruct us how to tie the abounding turns and curves of a city’s mysterious, impenetrable and awe inspiring woman’s inner garment for her upper body. The garment has an aura of desirability and glamour. The garment is quilted and strengthened with whalebone. The garment is a corset.
The poet continues, “Here gathering Chroniclers, and by them stand giddie fantastique poets of each land” (9-10). To be a “Chronicler” is to be a writer and compiler of a chronicle, a recorder of events (9). In that place gather recorders of events. Near the chroniclers are mad foolishly insane persons. Their actions and attributes include a lively imagination which is fanciful, impulsively capricious, and at time arbitrary. Their attire is foppish. They exhibit fanciful oddities when expressing their irrational behavior. Those persons come from “each land” (10). To be of “each land” is to be of every land. To be of “each land” is an analogy for the representation. The representation is from all walks of life, and from all lands. The land is definitively defined as being of the solid portion of the earth’s surface, as opposed to the sea and water.
The poet ponders, “Shall I leave all this constant company (11), and follow headlong, wild uncertain thee?” (12) To be “constant company” is to be steadfast, faithful and true, in attachment as to a lover or lovers. The alternative is to follow “headlong, wild uncertain thee” (12). To “follow headlong” is to follow head first, as though in a rush forward with ungoverned speed and blind impetuosity (12). The person he is following is “wild uncertain thee” (12). To be “wild” is to be uncivilized and uncultured, rude and savage. To be “wild” is to be a nonconformist and resistant to the constituted government (12). To be “uncertain” is to be fickle and capricious (12).
The poet has a request, “First sweare by thy best love in earnest―if thou which lov’st all, canst love any best” (13-14). To “sweare” is to affirm with an oath that what to be expressed has the assurance of truth (13). The validity of truth is taken under oath, and the oath is sworn by a solemn declaration invoking “thy best love in earnest (13). To be in “earnest” is to be serious in an emphatic sense (13). To be “earnest” is to be gravely impassioned in a conviction of truth (13). The question of truth is “If thou which lov’st all, canst love any best?” (14) You love everyone; can you not love any best?
The poet asks, “Thou wilt not leave mee in the middle street though some more spruce companion thou dost meet?” (15-16) In Old English, high street is applied to one of the Roman Roads, and low street is applied to a road of much lesser import. There is no such thing as “middle street” (15). Thus, the poet’s concern with being left in the “middle street” is well-founded because it doesn’t exist and he cannot get anywhere from nowhere (15). To be a “spruce companion” is to be dapper and smart, trim and neat, associate or mate (16). The poet is concerned as to whether or not the woman will leave him high and dry in the “middle street” over a more dapper and smart mate, someone else (15).
The poet’s concern, “Not though a Captaine do come in thy way bright parcel gilt, with forty dead mens pay” (17-18). To be a “captaine” is to be a military leader of skill and experience (17). To be a “captaine” is to be a general or commander and strategist (17). The captaine comes bearing “bright parcel gilt” (18). To bear “bright parcel gilt” is to bear part of shining luminaries of gold money from “forty dead mens pay (18). The poet is concerned that a captain will take her away from him. The captain will take her away because he comes bearing gold money obtained from “forty dead mens pay” (18).
The poet’s worry, “Nor though a briske perfum’d piert Courtier deigne with a nod, they courtesie to answer” (19-20). To be “briske” is to be smart and sharp, lively in movement (19). To be “perfum’d” is to be scented with perfume (19). To be “piert” is to be unconcealed and outspoken, to manifest evidence of openness (19). A “Courtier” is a Broker (19). To “diegne” is to respond in a condescending and vouchsafe manner (20). The poet fears a smart lively perfumed outspoken Broker who responds with a condescending nod, and that is all the courtesy provided for their answer will intervene and take the woman away from him.
The poet knows, “A velvet Justice with a long great traine of blew coats, twelve, or fourteen strong,” is not a good person (21-22). To be a “velvet Justice” is to be a Justice that is smooth as silk but with rough and dense edges (21). To be a “velvet Justice” is be drastically and emphatically morally just and righteous (21). To be a “velvet Justice” is to exhibit the quality of justice with a rough and sorted disposition (21). To be a “velvet Justice” is to exhibit integrity and rectitude with a double edged sword (21). To be a “velvet Justice” is to hold claim to, but not act in accordance with the four cardinal virtues (21). The four cardinal virtues are justice, fortitude, prudence and temperance.
To come with a “Long great traine of blew coats, twelve or fourteen strong” is to come with twelve or fourteen liveried servants (21-22). To come with a train of “blew coats, twelve or fourteen strong” is to appear with twelve or fourteen domestic servants all wearing the same livery (22). Livery is a distinctive dress or uniform provided for and worn by servants. The livery is distinguished by color, design and insignia by which a family may be identified. As the justice is a “velvet Justice,” it is prudent that twelve or fourteen servants “strong” tag along for protection (21-22). A “velvet Justice” would need servants to act in a manner similar to body guards or soldiers (21).
The poet inquiries, “Wilt thou grin or fawne on him, or prepare a speech to Court his beautious sonne and heire!” (23-24) Those two lines have a double entendre or double meaning. The first interpretation may include the following. To “grin” is to force an unnatural smile, a broad smile indicative of unrestrained vulgarity and merriment, clownish embarrassment, stupidity in wonder and exultation (23). To “fawne” is to show delight at his presence and lavish caresses on him (23). To “court” is to affect a servile fondness and favor by presenting an abject demeanor (24). A “servile fondness” is a fondness towards another befitting a slave to a master. An “abject demeanor” is conduct, mannerisms, and behavior that are of low repute, wretched and self-abasing. To “Court” is to aspire to another by paying amorous attention in order to gain the affections and ultimately, to make love and woo (24).
The poet’s alternative meaning of “Wilt thou grin or fawne on him, or prepare a speech to Court his beauteous sonne and heire” hinges on the words fawne and Court, which is capitalized. To “fawne” is to catch him in a noose and ensnare his head so as to choke and strangle (23). To “Court” refers to the sovereign with ministers and councilors as the ruling power of the state. The poet asks if the women will “prepare a speech?” (23-24) Will the speech be in favor of the lynching of the father so she may “court his beauteous sonne and heire?” (24)
The poet to the woman requests, “For better or worse take mee, or leave mee” (25). The words, “For better or worse,” indicate this may be a proposition of marriage (25). “To take, and leave mee is adultery” (26), signifies one of the two is married or has multiple sexual partners. In other words, for the poet to have sex with the woman, leave, and then have sex with another is considered adultery. The poet is asking the woman to make a choice, “Take mee, or leave me,” but don’t have sex with me and leave, simply to have sex with another (25).
The poet addresses the Captaine, who pays with dead men’s coin, the perfum’d Courtier who deignes with a nod, and the velvet Justice with twelve or fourteen strong as being of one “monstrous, superstitious puritan of refin’d manners, yet ceremoniall man” (27-28). Of those mentioned the Captaine, Courtier and Justice, they represent persons of “monstrous” behavior (27). Their true disposition is hidden beneath their “ceremoniall” guise. Beneath their mask, they are hideous and frightening, inhumanly wicked and depraved. They feed off the life of others like parasites feed off the blood of humans. They have a proclivity towards being a “superstitious puritan” (27). Their nature is characterized by superstition with an unreasonable awe of the unknown, mysterious and imaginary. They pontificate their purity especially in connection with religion and morality. Their religious and moral beliefs and practices, as they see it, are ‘pure.’ In reality, their religion and morality are based on ignorance and fear. During an argument, they will often defend their position, by simply stating, ‘That’s just the way it is.’ They escape their fear by controlling their environment with “dead men’s coin, a perfum’d nod, or twelve or fourteen strong” (18, 19-20, 22). Their ignorance and fear is veiled beneath their “ceremoniall” mask, “refin’d manners,” and a “velvet” robe (21, 28).
When a person”meet’st one, with enquiring eyes dost search” (29-30). When a person meets another with their eyes they search into, seek information or knowledge concerning the person that they meet. With their eyes they investigate “Like a needy broker prize” (30). A broker is a person who acts as a middleman in bargains. A broker is a person employed as a middleman to transact business or negotiate bargains between different merchants or individuals. During this time broker were divided into different classes, there is the bill and exchange broker often referred to as a stockbroker, there is the ship and insurance broker referred to as a pawnbroker. As well, there was the broker that negotiates sales of produce between different merchants usually confining themselves to one department or line of business; for example, cotton-broker, tea-broker, or wool-broker. This broker in the poem is “needy” (30). To be a “needy” broker is to be of circumstances, characterized by poverty or need (30). To “prize” is to apprise or estimate and establish the monetary value, fix or state the price of the commodity presented.
In this case, the commodity is “The silke, and gold he weares, and to that rate so high or low, dost raise thy formall hat:” According to the appraised value of the silk and gold the person wears, determines how “high or low” the person will raise his hat (32). “That wilt consort none” (33), the person will not consort, “until thou have knowne what lands hee hath in hope, or of his owne” (33-34). The person will not consort until he knows what property he is going to inherit, or what property he already has of his own. “As though all thy companions should make thee jointures, and marry thy deare company” (35-36). As though all your friends should make you a joint-owner in their estate, and wed themselves to your company.
“Why should’st thou (that dost not onely approve, but in ranke itchie lust, desire, and love the nakedness and barenesse to enjoy of thy plumpe muddy whore, or prostitute boy) hate virtue, though shee be naked, and bare:” (37-41). Why should you not approve of, except in your lustful, desires nakedness so that you may enjoy a plump muddy whore or prostitute boy? Why do you hate virtue, although virtue is naked and bare? To hate virtue is to hate chastity and sexual purity. This person hates chastity and sexual purity, even though it too is naked and bare.
“At birth, and death, our bodies naked are; and till our Soules be unapparrelled of bodies, they from blisse are banished” (42-44). When we are born and die are bodies are naked. Until our souls become undressed and disrobed of our bodies, our souls are condemned from blessedness.
“Mans first blest state was naked, when by sinne hee lost that, yet hee’was cloath’d but in beasts skin, and in this course attire, which I now weare, with God, and with the Muses I conferre” (45-48). Mans initial state is naked, but by sin he lost that state. Man was clothed in animal skin, and in that course attire, which I now wear, with God and the Muses I now confer. To confer is to include, comprising in order to comprehend.
“But since thou like a contrite penitent charitably warn’ed of thy sinnes, dost repent these vanities, and giddiness’s, loe I shut my chamber doore, and ‘Come, lets goe'” (49-52). However, since you are crushed and broken in spirit, and brought to complete repents with sincere desire to amend your sins after having been charitably warned of your sins, do repent these vanities, and giddiness’s. To repent is to review your actions and feel contrition and regret for something you have done or omitted. To repent is to acknowledge the sinfulness of your vanities and giddiness’s of actions and conduct by showing sincere remorse and undertaking to reform in the future. Oh I shut my front door, and ‘Come, let’s go’ (52).
“But sooner may a cheape whore, that hath beene worne by as many severall men in sinne, as are black feathers, or musk-colour hose, name her childs right true father, ‘monst all those” (53-56). But sooner may a cheap whore, that has been used by as many men in sin, as there are black feathers or musk-color hose. In the seventeenth century, black feathers and musk-colored hose were the most common. Sooner will the cheap whore used by several men “Name her childs right true father, ‘monst all those” (56).
“Sooner may one guesse, who shall beare away th’infant of London, Heire to’an India” (57-58). “And sooner may a gulling weather-Spie by drawing forth heavens Scheme tell certainly what fashion’d hats, or ruffles, or suits next yeare our subtile-witted antique youths will weare” (59-62). “A gulling weather-Spie” is a cheat and deceptive person who watch’s the weather, especially one employed by the government in order to obtain information regarding the weather (59). Sooner will the “Gulling weather-Spie by drawing forth heavens Scheme tell certainly what fashion’d hats, or ruffles, or suits next yeare our subtile-witted antique youths will weare” then to tell us the father’s name of the whores baby (59-62).
“Then thou, when thou depart’st from mee, canst show whither, why, when, or with whom thou wouldst go” (63-64). When you leave me, you will not know why, when or whom you will go with. “But how shall I be pardon’d my offence that thus have sinn’d against my conscience?” (65-66) How am I going to be able to pardon the offence since you have sinned against my advice?
“Now we are in the street; He first of all improvidently proud, creepes to the wall, ans so imprison’d, and hem’d in by mee sells for a little state his libertie” (67-70). Now that we are in the street, he is proud and without forethought for the future. He moves closely to the wall, and is imprisoned and hemmed in by me: He sells for a combination of circumstances or attributes for the time being to a person; a particular manner or way of existing; a condition; he sells his freedom.
“Yet though he cannot skip forth now to greet every fine silken painted foole we meet, he them to him with amorous smiles allures, and grins, smacks, shrugs, and such an itch endures, as prentises, or schoole-boyes which doe know of some gay sport abroad, yet dare not goe” (71-76). Although he cannot go forward to greet every fool we meet, he flirts with them with alluring smiles, grins, smacks and shrugs. Such an inclination lasts, as a prentice and school boy would know, of some gay foreign sport. Yet, they dare not go.
“And as fiddlers stop low’st, at highest sound, so to the most brave, stoops hee nigh’st the ground” (77-78). The fiddle is an analogy to being the bravest. They both stop the lowest or highest the ground, for the highest sound. In this case, “the highest sound” is symbolic of a gay man’s voice being of high tone. “But to a grave man, he doth move no more then the wise politique horse would heretofore, or thou O Elephant or Ape wilt doe, when any names the King of Spaine to you” (79-82). Only a soberly dressed man would move no more. However, the wise political performing horse in time past, called Morocco, from its supposed origin, exhibited by a showman named Banks during the 1590s. The elephant and ape were added to the act in 1594. The performing horse, elephant and ape will do, when any names the King of Spain to you for fornication.
“Now leaps he upright, Joggs me’ and cryes, Do’ you see yonder well favour’d youth? Which? Oh, ’tis hee that dances so divinely” (83-85). He leaps upright gives me a slight push and shake or nudge to arouse my attention, and cries, ‘Do you see over there a healthy beautiful youth?’ “Oh said I, stand still, must you dance here for company?”
“Hee droopt, wee went, till one (which did excel th’Indians, in drinking his Tobacco well)” (87-88) He pouted, but they went until one in the morning. In the morning the natives took his tobacco as though they were drinking it well. “Met us; they talk’d; I whiper’d, let us goe, ‘t may be you smell him not, truly I doe;” (89-90). They hung-out with the natives talking. The poet whispered to his friend ‘let’s go,’ but to no avail. His friend asked, ‘Do you not smell him because I do?’ “He heares not mee, but, on the other side a many-colour’d Peacock having spide, leaves him and mee; I for my lost sheep stay” (91-93). His friend does not hear him because near them was a successful colorful person, his friend leaves the colorful person and the poet. The poet lost, but the sheep did stay. The reference to sheep is an analogy to those hanging around being guided.
“He followes, overtakes, goes on the way, saying him whom I last left, all repute for his device, in hansoming a sute, to judge of lace, pinke, panes, print, cut, and plight, or all the Court, to have the best conceit” (94-98). His friend meanders along, follows, overtakes, goes away, saying of who that he has last left, all the fame and reputation for his ability in making some kind of suit, to judge of lace, pink, cut and trimming and lining, print, style, and dress of all the Court to be of all the very best attire.
“Our dull Comedians want him, let him goe; but oh, God strengthen thee, why stoop’st thou so?”(99-100) Our player, not quick of wit, intelligence or mental perception, slow in understanding, not sharp of wit, obtuse, stupid and inapprehensive, let him go. But oh, God strengthen me, why does he stoop so low? “Why? He hath travail’d. Long?” (101) Why? Has he travailed a long way? “No, but to me, which understand none, he doth seeme to be perfect French, and Italian” (101-103). No, but to me he does seem to speak perfect French and Italian, but I understand none.
“I reply’d, “So is the Poxe” (104). The poet sarcastically replied, “So is the infectious diseases syphilis” “He answer’d not” (104). He did not answer. “But spy’d more men of sort, of parts, and qualities” (104-105). He saw more men of the sort, parts and qualities to his liking.
“At last his Love he in a windowe spies, and like light dew exhal’d, he flings from mee violently ravish’d to his lechery” (106-108). As though window shopping, at last he spots his Love and he exhales with a sigh of erotic perspiration. He flings from the poet violently ravished in awe of his lechery. “Many were there, he could command no more” (109). Others were awaiting their turn with the whore, he could command neither more intercourse and further sexual vigor. “Hee quarrell’d, fought, bled; and turn’d out of dore directly came to mee hanging the head, and constantly a while must keep his bed” (110-113). He quarreled, fought and bled, and was thrown out the door. He directly came to the poet hanging his head, and constantly a while maintains his sexual orientation of being gay.
Donne, John, “The Complete Poetry,” Ed. John T. Shawcross, Anchor Books, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1967.