14 February 2017

An Epithalamion, or Marriage Song on the Lady Elizabeth and Count Palatine being Married on St Valentine’s Day (John Donne, 1613)

Frederick and Elizabeth, King and Queen of Bohemia

Today marks the 404th anniversary of the marriage of Elizabeth Stuart (sister of Charles I) to Frederick, the Elector Palatine.

The pair married on 14 February 1613, with lavish simultaneous celebrations in London and Heidelberg. John Donne was commissioned to write a marriage song to celebrate the occasion, so, for all those celebrating Valentine's Day, here it is ...


HAIL Bishop Valentine, whose day this is;
      All the air is thy diocese,
      And all the chirping choristers
And other birds are thy parishioners;
      Thou marriest every year      
The lyric lark, and the grave whispering dove,
The sparrow that neglects his life for love,
The household bird with the red stomacher;
      Thou makest the blackbird speed as soon,
As doth the goldfinch, or the halcyon;       
The husband cock looks out, and straight is sped,
And meets his wife, which brings her feather-bed.
This day more cheerfully than ever shine;
This day, which might inflame thyself, old Valentine.


Till now, thou warm’d’st with multiplying loves
      Two larks, two sparrows, or two doves;
      All that is nothing unto this;
For thou this day couplest two phœnixes;
      Thou makst a taper see
What the sun never saw, and what the ark       
—Which was of fowls 1 and beasts the cage and park—
Did not contain, one bed contains, through thee;
      Two phœnixes, whose joined breasts
Are unto one another mutual nests,
Where motion kindles such fires as shall give       
Young phœnixes, and yet the old shall live;
Whose love and courage never shall decline,
But make the whole year through, thy day, O Valentine.


Up then, fair phœnix bride, frustrate the sun;
      Thyself from thine affection       
      Takest warmth enough, and from thine eye
All lesser birds will take their jollity.
      Up, up, fair bride, and call
Thy stars from out their several boxes, take
Thy rubies, pearls, and diamonds forth, and make       
Thyself a constellation of them all;
      And by their blazing signify
That a great princess falls, but doth not die.
Be thou a new star, that to us portends
Ends of much wonder; and be thou those ends.       
Since thou dost this day in new glory shine,
May all men date records from this day, Valentine.


Come forth, come forth, and as one glorious flame
      Meeting another grows the same,
      So meet thy Frederick, and so       
To an inseparable union go,
      Since separation
Falls not on such things as are infinite,
Nor things, which are but one, can disunite.
You’re twice inseparable, great, and one;       
      Go then to where the bishop stays,
To make you one, his way, which divers ways
Must be effected; and when all is past,
And that you’re one, by hearts and hands made fast,
You two have one way left, yourselves to entwine,       
Besides this bishop’s knot, of Bishop Valentine.


But O, what ails the sun, that here he stays,
      Longer to-day than other days?
      Stays he new light from these to get?
And finding here such stars, is loth to set?       
      And why do you two walk,
So slowly paced in this procession?
Is all your care but to be look’d upon,
And be to others spectacle and talk?
      The feast with gluttonous delays       
Is eaten, and too long their meat they praise;
The masquers come late, and I think, will stay,
Like fairies, till the cock crow them away.
Alas! did not antiquity assign
A night as well as day, to thee, old Valentine?       


They did, and night is come; and yet we see
      Formalities retarding thee.
      What mean these ladies, which—as though
They were to take a clock in pieces—go
      So nicely about the bride?       
A bride, before a “Good-night” could be said,
Should vanish from her clothes into her bed,
As souls from bodies steal, and are not spied.
      But now she’s laid; what though she be?
Yet there are more delays, for where is he?       
He comes and passeth through sphere after sphere;
First her sheets, then her arms, then anywhere.
Let not this day, then, but this night be thine;
Thy day was but the eve to this, O Valentine.


Here lies a she sun, and a he moon there;
      She gives the best light to his sphere;
      Or each is both, and all, and so
They unto one another nothing owe;
      And yet they do, but are
So just and rich in that coin which they pay,       
That neither would, nor needs forbear, nor stay;
Neither desires to be spared nor to spare.
      They quickly pay their debt, and then
Take no acquittances, but pay again;
They pay, they give, they lend, and so let fall       
No such occasion to be liberal.
More truth, more courage in these two do shine,
Than all thy turtles have and sparrows, Valentine.


And by this act of these two phœnixes
      Nature again restorèd is;       
      For since these two are two no more,
There’s but one phœnix still, as was before.
      Rest now at last, and we—
As satyrs watch the sun’s uprise—will stay
Waiting when your eyes opened let out day,       
Only desired because your face we see.
      Others near you shall whispering speak,
And wagers lay, at which side day will break,
And win by observing, then, whose hand it is
That opens first a curtain, hers or his:       
This will be tried to-morrow after nine,
Till which hour, we thy day enlarge, O Valentine.


  1. How timely and how fun!

    I did a special Valentine's Day post just so I could link to yours: https://honorandintrigue.blogspot.com/

  2. Thanks! Read your blog post about historical songs - interesting!