Donne’s elegies are not particularly funeral and satires are not particularly funny, because again he imitates the Roman model of the satire, whose main purpose was to attack various vices and foibles of humankind. In this case, he imitates a Roman poet Persius, “known for an abstruse style and moralizing manner”, as the NAEL editors say. Indeed, the subject is a moral one and the diction sometimes quite complicated.
“Satire 3” was probably written when Donne was in his twenties and in the process of converting to Anglicanism, and its object is the laziness of people in matters of religion. In Donne’s times, various Christian denominations competed with one another, sometimes in a very bloody manner and the central question of this satire is: how do we know which religion is the true one? The poet starts by saying that he can neither laugh nor weep, as his feelings both of pity and scorn for that human malady zero out each other. From that moment on he uses consistently “thou”, addressing his imaginary reader, but perhaps himself as well. Religion should be as important to us as virtue was to ancient philosophers, but isn’t it possible that our fathers in heaven are going to meet those pagan philosophers rather than their sons? Is not the virtuous life of these philosophers “imputed faith”, i.e as deserving, or indeed more deserving of salvation than faith without virtuous life? Does this question make you feel scared? It should and in fact, “this fear great courage and high valor is”. Donne than lists the whole roster of superficially courageous things that his contemporaries did: fighting with the Dutch against the Spaniards, travelling to the dangerous tropical or polar zones, fighting duels in the name of their mistresses etc. “Courage of straw!” The true foes of man, quoth Donne medievally, soare the world (going to worse and worse), devil and flesh.
So the answer should be simple: “Seek true religion. O, where?” Donne uses several allegorical figures personifying various religions or indeed, irreligion. Mirreus, the Roman Catholic, seeing that what he considers true religion cannot be found in England anymore, seeks her at Rome because he knows she used to live there. He loves her rags like silly people who worship the canopy under which the prince used to sit. Crantz, the Calvinist, loves the religion who is “plain, simple, sullen, young/contemptuous yet unhandsome”. He is like guys who love only coarse country wenches. Graius, the Anglican, loves the religion of his country because his preachers and his tradition tell him to. He is like a young boy who has to marry the girl his guardian makes him to, or he will have to pay a fine. (You had to pay high fines in post-Reformation England for not attending Anglican services.) Phrygius, the atheist, is like the guy who hates all women because some happen to be whores. And Graccus, an agnostic, is like a guy who thinks that all women are the same, even if they wear different national costumes, so it makes no difference which one he chooses. Donne dares here to use an extreme form of enjambemetn, breaking off the word “blind/ness” in the middle for the sake of rhyme. I wonder if he does it to emphasize the fact that he is as indifferent to the traditional rules of rhyming as Graccus to all religions. Donne’s final point is that you have to choose one religion and you have to do your own thinking: inquiry is not a sin, but sleeping or being wrong is. You can’t put it off until you are old and infirm, and you can’t choose a religion because you are afraid of your rulers. Kings (contrary to what James I claimed) are not God’s representatives on earth but “hangmen to fate”. People who obey earthly power more than God are like flowers torn from their roots by a mountain stream and vanishing in the sea. On the whole it’s a very interesting poem, with quite strong medieval undertones (all these allegorical figures) but also I think it is very symptomatic of Donne that he compares various religious choices to the various men’s tastes in women.