Breake of Day

[Commonplace book], [mid. 17th c.], originally uploaded by Beinecke Flickr Laboratory.
Breake of Day
‘Tis true, ’tis day; what though it be?
O wilt thou therefore rise from me?
Why should we rise? because ’tis light?
Did we lie down, because ’twas night?
Love which in spite of darkness brought us hither
Should in despite of light keep us together.
Light hath no tongue, but is all eye;
If it could speak as well as spy,
This were the worst, that it could say,
That being well, I fain would stay,
And that I lov’d my heart and honor so,
That I would not from him, that had them, go.
Must business thee from hence remove?
Oh, that’s the worst disease of love,
The poor, the foul, the false, love can
Admit, but not the busied man.
He which hath business, and makes love, doth do
Such wrong, as when a married man doth woo.

Alongside dozens of works by other authors, John Donne’s “Breake of Day” and other poems were copied in this commonplace book, or manuscript notebook, by an unidentified reader sometime in the mid-seventeenth century.

Missing several lines and the third stanza, this copy of “The Indifferent,” below, is considerably shorter than the version in the first edition of Donne’s poetry, published in 1633, two years after his death. Like many early modern commonplace books, this example offers a glimpse of the fluidity of early modern manuscript copies of texts, and of the active role of the reader in selecting, editing, abbreviating, mis-copying, and changing texts.


“The Indifferent”
I can love both fair and brown
Her whom abundance melts, and her whom want betrays
Her who loves loneness best, and her who masks and plays
Her whom the country form’d, and whom the town
Her who believes, and her who tries
Her who still weeps with spongy eyes,
And her who is dry cork, and never cries.
I can love her, and her, and you, and you
I can love any, so she be not true.

Will no other vice content you?
Will it not serve your turn to do as did your mothers?
Or have you all old vices spent, and now would find others?
Or doth a fear that men are true torment you?
O we are not; be not you so
Let me—and do you—twenty know
Rob me, but bind me not, and let me go.
Must I, who came to travel through you
Grow your fix’d subject, because you are true?

Venus heard me sigh this song
And by love’s sweetest part, variety, she swore,
She heard not till this now; and that it should be so no more.
She went, examined, and return’d ere long,
And said, “Alas! some two or three
Poor heretics in love there be,
Which think to stablish dangerous constancy.
But I have told them, ‘Since you will be true,
You shall be true to them who’re false to you’.”

Below, the reader at work with jottings and pen trials, and the binding of the volume itself.pen-tests1



This and other early modern commonplace books have been scanned in their entirety and can be read in the Beinecke’s Digital Images collection or on the Flickr Commons. Beinecke call number: Osborn b205

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