Witchcraft by a Picture, John Donne

edited by Shelley Fessenden

Much of John Donne's love poetry was probably written in the last decade of the sixteenth century; this poem, "Witchcraft by a Picture" happens to be one of his more obscure. Donne's poetry reflects the pressures he felt at the end of the sixteenth century to break from the Petrarchan mold of his predecessors. He strives to "rewrite Petrarchan motifs and tropes as emphatically as he can" (Waller, 225). In "Witchcraft by a Picture" the man leaves the woman, a quite different approach to the traditional Petrarchan model where the man endlessly pines for the cold-hearted female and never achieves intimacy.
Editor C.A. Patrides says the poem has been found to be entitled "The Picture" in some editions published from 1635 to 1669, as well as in some manuscripts. The possible suggestion of witchcraft exists throughout the poem, however, originating in line 6. Patrides explains this line with the footnote, "Witches were said to kill their victims by making and then destroying their pictures." His rendition of line 6 would clearly explain the inclusion of witchcraft in the title.

Patrides, C. A.,ed. The Complete Works of Jonne Donne. London: Dent, 1985.
Waller, Gary. English Poetry of the Sixteenth Century. Second edition. New York: Longman, 1993.

 I fix mine eye on thine, and there
   Pity my picture burning in thine eye;
 My picture drowned in a transparent tear
   When I look lower I espy.
     Hadst thou the wicked skill                             5
 By pictures made and marred to kill,
 How many ways mightst thou perform thy will!

 But now I have drunk thy sweet salt tears,
  And though thou pour more I'll depart;
 My picture vanished, vanish fears                           10
  That I can be endamaged by that art.
     Though thou retain of me
 One picture more, yet that will be,
 Being in thine own heart, from all malice free.


2.picture] i.e., his reflection in her eye.
4.espy] catch sight of.
6.pictures made and marred] portraits or likenesses of a person intentionally disfigured or mutilated by witches in order to cause harm.
7.will] desire.
11.endamaged] injured.

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