Joseph William Perry
Thoughts on John Donne's Writings
The writings of John Donne appeal to me most strongly through my emotions. Although he was very strong intellectually he had a way of communicating that transcends reason, going straight to the heart. In this "Holy Sonnet" he opens his spiritual struggle to us, revealing the war in his soul. He carries us with him in this psalm-like prayer as he escalates the symbolic intensity, culminating in a last couplet as memorable as it is paradoxical.
Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to
break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town to'another
Labor to'admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I
love you, and would be lov'd fain,
But am betroth'd unto your
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you,
imprison me, for I,
Except you'enthrall me, never shall be free,
chaste, except you ravish me.
John Donne, 1633.
Donne's most widely known passage is this meditation upon the sickness and/or the death of a neighbor. I resorted to it for inspiration and exhortation on the Friday following the attack on the World Trade Center. As I watched the memorial service being broadcast from the National Cathedral in Washington the tolling of the bells brought it into my heart.
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a
part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as
well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine
own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and
therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.
Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as
though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from
the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbours. Truly it were an
excusable covetousness if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any
man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and
ripened by and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in
bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current money, his
treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the
nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer
and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to
death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of
no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and
applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another's danger I take
mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my
God, who is our only security.
From "Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions", Part
The benediction from his sermon "Death's Duel" went like an arrow to my soul the first time I saw it. Because it came at the end of the last sermon he preached before his final sickness and death, it became the benediction of the message that was his very life. The admonitions contained in it may be graphic and repelling to the ears of some, but to me they invite the hearer to a spiritual reality that is beyond metaphor and simile, beyond intellect and emotion. John Donne invites us into the very Kingdom of God and not only that, he invites us to enter through the door: the Son of God, Jesus Christ crucified.
There we leave you in that blessed dependency, to hang upon him that hangs upon the
cross, there bathe in his tears, there suck at his wounds, and lie down in peace
in his grave, till he vouchsafe you a resurrection, and an ascension into that
kingdom which He hath prepared for you with the inestimable price of his
incorruptible blood. Amen.
Copyright © 2003 Joseph Perry, Greyfort Publishing
The Richest Man in Town
Camp Hunt Memories
Joseph William Perry Home Page
New Family Album
Old Family Album
My Music Page
Other Web Pages:
Carl Sandburg's Rootabaga Stories
New—Information About Spam
New—My Fracturèd Resumé
A Fractured Poem
for Lewis Carroll fans
My Other Web Sites:
Camp Hunt Memories
Spirit of Prayer
F.M. Perry Home
The Day Ministry
LAS Alumni Site