“The Apparition” by John Donne


When by thy scorn, O murd’ress, I am dead
And that thou think’st thee free
From all solicitation from me,
Then shall my ghost come to thy bed,
And thee, feign’d vestal, in worse arms shall see;
Then thy sick taper will begin to wink,
And he, whose thou art then, being tir’d before,
Will, if thou stir, or pinch to wake him, think
Thou call’st for more,
And in false sleep will from thee shrink,
And then, poor aspen wretch, neglected thou
Bath’d in a cold quicksilver sweat wilt lie
A verier ghost than I.
What I will say, I will not tell thee now,
Lest that preserve thee and since my love is spent,
I’had rather thou shouldst painfully repent,
Than by my threat’nings rest still innocent.

Since Wednesday is Halloween, I thought it only appropriate to choose a spooky poem to mark the holiday. John Donne’s “The Apparition” follows a jilted lover in his attempts to haunt the woman who has “scorned” him. Though she believes that she is finally free from his advances, the speaker has other intentions as he returns to her bedside to haunt her and her current lover while they sleep. The “wink” of the “sick taper” (6) indicates his eerie presence, and he remarks that her companion refuses to stir in response to her “pinch to wake him” (8).  His revenge is now complete, as she remains neglected, scared in her bed, and in fact, a “Verier ghost than I” (13). In the final lines, the narrator reflects that he will not spoil the surprise of what he intends to say, as he wishes for the woman to “painfully repent” (16) for her actions towards him.

John Donne was born in the mid 1500’s and was a poet, lawyer, and cleric in the Church of England. He wrote sonnets, religious poems, songs, satires and sermons. Donne is often categorized as an early metaphysical poet.