GREAT DEVOTIONAL POETRY (from various public sources)

 

GREAT DEVOTIONAL POETRY

If you are not familiar with this poem, you need to be. Donne composed this piece near the end of his life when he was facing death (circa 1631). John Donne (pronounced ‘dun’) lived a contemporary of Shakespeare in London England between 1570 and 1640. He was renowned in his time as a ‘wit,’ a brilliant university educated member of the lower gentry classes. He was a cut above Shakespeare who had no university education and whose father was a glove maker.

John Donne had expectations as a young man and attached himself to James I royal court in the hope of ‘advancement’. He blew any prospects he might have had when he married, against her parents’ wills, a lady called Ann Moore. She was his darling dear and sweetheart, whereas in those days a person of any pretension married always by stratagem to enhanced the family fortunes, but not for love.

Donne had been a profligate in his earlier youth; a playboy, we might have called him these days. His poetry of his youth reflects this amorous and lascivious character. His attachment to Ann Moore brought him into line; but ruined his finances and outlook.

Ann died quite early in life, and Donne was devastated. Now a widower his attachment to Ann began to mature into a devout devotion to God. His career picked up again a little and over time he rose in the Anglican Church to occupy the position of Dean of St Pauls’ Cathedral in London (not the Wren building but the previous building before it was destroyed by fire).

During this development and elevation to Dean, his poetry moves rapidly away from his early rakish lasciviousness and heads towards the devotional poetry of his later years. This ‘Hymn to God the Father’ is thus a late poem of his; one of his final few. As he contemplates his demise, he is overcome with a sense of his own sinfulness, and he wonders how he will stand at the judgment. Donne evokes all the anguish of the “wretched man” in Romans 7:24 before he sounds a final note of hope that Jesus will rescue him at the last day. There is a wonderful play on the word “done” in this poem, and you may note that it can either mean “done” (sins committed, sins forgiven, or “Donne” (as in John Donne). It really is beautiful, and you can read the full text below.

Hymn to God the Father

Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;
For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sins their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallow’d in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I’ve spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by Thyself that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as He shines now and heretofore:
And having done that, Thou hast done;
I fear no more.

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