A poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth. There is this difference between a story and a poem, that a story is a catalogue of detached facts, which have no other connection than time, place, circumstance, cause and effect.

A poem is the creation of actions according to the unchangeable forms of human nature, as existing in the mind of the Creator which is itself the image of all other minds.

The one is partial, and applies only to a definite period of time and a certain combination of events which can never again recur; the other is universal and contains within itself the germ of a relation to whatever motives or actions have place in the possible varieties of human nature.

Time, which destroys the beauty and the use of the story of particular facts, stripped of the poetry which should invest them, augments that of poetry and for ever develops new and wonderful applications of the eternal truth which it contains.

Hence epitomes* have been called the moths of just history – they eat out the poetry of it.

A story of particular facts is as a mirror which obscures and distorts that which should be beautiful – poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.

*Who did the whole worlds soul contract, and drove  Into the glasses of your eyes  So made such mirrors, and such spies,  That they did all to you epitomise.


A single sentence may be considered as a whole, though it may be found in the midst of a series of unassimilated portions; a single word even may be a spark of inextinguishable thought.

And thus all the great historians, Herodotus, Plutarch, Livy were poets – they made copious and ample amends for their subjection, by filling all the interstices of their subjects with living images.



HERODOTUS was called the Father of History because his work was subjected to evaluation and research. A Greek historian circa484-circa425BC he was exiled for political reasons.

PLUTARCH wrote both essays and biographies and was a citizen of Athens and Rome during the period circa46-circa120AD. His work Parallel Lives was translated into English by Sir Thomas North in 1579.

LIVY or TITUS LIVIUS circa59BC-17AD was a Roman historian. His populist style of the time was an immediate success but only a quarter of his work survives.

The extract by John Donne is from a Song or Sonnet entitled The Canonization.