Title: DONNE'S TO HIS MISTRESS GOING TO BED, LINES 33-35 ,  By: Ray, Robert H., Explicator, 00144940, Summer92, Vol. 50, Issue 4


Full nakedness, all joyes are due to thee.
As soules unbodied, bodies uncloth'd must bee
To taste whole joyes.

Despite extensive commentary on the eroticism of Donne's To His Mistress Going to Bed, apparently unnoted is a quite bawdy pun in these lines. Helen Gardner's commentary (132) paraphrases lines 34-35 as follows: "As souls must cast off the body to taste the fullness of joy, so bodies must cast off their clothes." She then refers to Aquinas, citing the argument that the "full reward of the blessed is after death and that in this life they have only a foretaste of bliss." A. J. Smith (Donne, Complete Poems 450) comments on these lines that "just as souls must divest themselves of their bodies before they can enjoy total bliss, so the bodies must shed their clothes." Other editors and critics make similar assertions, primarily emphasizing the audacious analogy of soul and body and the implication of experiencing total, "whole joyes" through physical nakedness.

Surely, however, Donne is punning on "whole" as the female "hole" revealed by nakedness. This is very much in the vein of the bawdy conversation among Benvolio, Romeo, and Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet (2.4.88-101). Mercutio speaks of the idiot wishing to hide his "bable" in a "hole" and then speaks of his own coming "to the whole depth of my tale," with sexual puns on "whole" and "tale" (quoted from Evans's edition). This implication is reinforced by the further bawdy meaning of "taste" as to enjoy a woman sexually. Pertinent examples, again from Shakespeare, are found in Posthumus's "If you can make it apparent / That you have tasted her in bed" (Cymbeline 2.4.57-58) and in Othello's "I had been happy, if the general camp / Pioners and all, had tasted her sweet body" (Othello 3.3.345-46).

The likelihood that Donne is making such a pun on "whole" is supported by his own bawdy statement in Love's Progress: "Men to such Gods [Cupid and Pluto] their sacrificing coales / Did not in Altars lay, but pits and holes" (lines 31-32). Then, in line 36 he says, "we love the Centrique part," that is, the vagina, the "hole."


Donne, John. The Complete English Poems. Ed. A. J. Smith. 1971. Rpt. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1984.

----. "The Elegies" and "The Songs and Sonnets." Ed. Helen Gardner. Oxford: Clarendon, 1965.

Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974.


By ROBERT H. RAY, Baylor University