Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward

Poem for a Tuesday “Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward” by John Donne

Let man’s soul be a sphere, and then, in this,

The ‘intelligence that moves, devotion is,

And as the other spheres, by being grown

Subject to foreign motion, lose their own,

And being by others hurried every day,

Scarce in a year their natural form obey:

Pleasure or business, so, our souls admit

For their first mover, and are whirled by it.

Hence is’t, that I am carried towards the West

This day, when my soul’s form bends toward the East.

There I should see a Sun, by rising set,

And by that setting endless day beget;

But that Christ on this cross, did rise and fall,

Sin had eternally benighted all.

Yet dare I’almost be glad, I do not see

That spectacle of too much weight for mee.

Who sees Gods face, that is self-life, must die;

What a death were it then to see God die?

It made his own lieutenant, Nature, shrink;

It made his footstool crack, and the sun wink.

Could I behold those hands which span the poles,

And tune all spheres at once pierced with those holes?

Could I behold that endless height which is

Zenith to us, and our antipodes,

Humbled below us? or that blood which is

The seat of all our Soules, if not of his,

Made dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn

By God, for his apparel, ragg’d, and torn?

If on these things I durst not look, durst I

Upon his miserable mother cast mine eye,

Who was Gods partner here, and furnished thus

Half of that sacrifice, which ransomed us?

Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,

They’re present yet unto my memory,

For that looks towards them; and thou look’st towards mee,

O Saviour, as thou hang’st upon the tree;

I turn my back to thee but to receive

Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.

O think me worth thine anger; punish me,

Burn off my rusts, and my deformity,

Restore thine image, so much, by thy grace,

That thou may’st know me, and I’ll turn my face.

In the Norton Anthology of Poetry, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1970, pp. 189-190.

John Donne

Poet, writer, and clergyman John Donne was born in 1576 in Oxford. As a young man, he studied law, traveled as a gentleman adventurer to Cadiz and the Azores, and served as the secretary of Sir Thomas Egerton, the lord keeper of England. His secret marriage to Lady Anne More in 1602 led to a falling out with the Egerton family which put an end to his service to the household and blighted his professional opportunities for a number of years. Plagued by a sense of his own unworthiness, he was reluctant to become a priest. Ordained in 1615, he soon became a celebrated preacher. When his wife died in childbirth in 1617, Donne committed his energies to the church. He was elected dean of St. Paul’s in November 1621 and frequently preached before the king at court. Although his work was immensely popular during his lifetime, he fell out of favor during the Restoration and was little read until the late 19th and early twentieth century when his poetry was rediscovered and championed by T.S. Eliot and William Butler Yeats.

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