Sunday, February 10, 2008

Holy Sonnet IV

by John Donne

O, my black soul, now thou art summoned
By sickness, Death's herald and champion;
Thou'rt like a pilgrim, which abroad hath done
Treason, and durst not turn to whence he's fled;
Or like a thief, which till death's doom be read,
Wisheth himself deliver'd from prison,
But damn'd and haled to execution,
Wisheth that still he might be imprisoned.
Yet grace, if thou repent, thou canst not lack;
But who shall give thee that grace to begin?
O, make thyself with holy mourning black,
And red with blushing, as thou art with sin;
Or wash thee in Christ's blood, which hath this might,
That being red, it dyes red souls to white.

* * *

Quick translation from Metaphysical-speak: I'm sick; it's time for me to die now. Just as a convicted prisoner, led to execution, wishes himself back in prison, so I wish I did not have to die and face my judgment. I'd better repent now, because I know Christ will forgive me.

Sorry about the hurried posting ... between thesis, and student teaching, and everything else, I hardly know where I am anymore. I'll try to do a more thorough post another day.


Anonymous said...

Yes, a good Lent poem...

Those last two lines are great - they remind me of this in the "Adoro Te":

Pie pellicane Jesu Domine
Me immundum munda tuo sanguine
Cuius una stilla salvum facere
Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.

Also the red-which-dyes-white has a real paradoxical (Chestertonian) character, but links also (I think) the Preface for the Baptism of the Lord, something about the water is washed by He who is baptised...

--Dr. Thursday

Sheila said...

Well, Donne and the other Metaphysicals (like the Church) are into paradox. It describes things that can't really be understood any other way. Cf. the Ball and the Cross, as Michael's hanging from the arm of the ball. I can't go find the quote just now.