John Donne  

Posted by Joe Rawls

John Donne (1572-1631) was what we would today call a second-career priest. He came to the priesthood following a very turbulent early life in which he wrote racy love-poems, studied at Oxford, Cambridge, and the Inns of Court, served in Parliament, and sought the sponsorship of various powerful men as a wannabee courtier. It did not help matters that he was a Roman Catholic or that he secretly married the niece of an erstwhile mentor. Eventually he made his peace with the Church of England and took Holy Orders, seemingly in part because he needed a steady job.

These negatives notwithstanding, Donne became one of the great English poets; it is largely by way of his poems that he is recognized today as a great Anglican theologian as well. Since he died on March 31, his feast often gets bumped from the liturgical calendar as it falls so close to Easter. This year he just manages to scrape by, and I'd like to share two of his works with you. Meditation XVII is poignant in light of the ongoing meltdown of the Anglican Communion; Holy Sonnet X is totally appropriate in this Easter season.

Meditation XVII

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 bell tolls; it tools for thee.

Holy Sonnet X

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so,
For those, whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'rt slave to Fate, chance, Kings and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
and better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 31, 2008 at Monday, March 31, 2008 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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