Death Be Not Proud: Excerpts from John Donne

John Donne Icon

from Hymn to God, My God, in My Sickness

Since I am coming to that holy room,
         Where, with thy choir of saints for evermore,
I shall be made thy music; as I come
         I tune the instrument here at the door…
I joy, that in these straits I see my west;
         For, though their currents yield return to none,
What shall my west hurt me? As west and east
         In all flat maps (and I am one) are one,
         So death doth touch the resurrection…
We think that Paradise and Calvary,
         Christ’s cross, and Adam’s tree, stood in one place;
Look, Lord, and find both Adams met in me;
         As the first Adam’s sweat surrounds my face,
         May the last Adam’s blood my soul embrace.
So, in his purple wrapp’d, receive me, Lord;
         By these his thorns, give me his other crown;
And as to others’ souls I preach’d thy word,
         Be this my text, my sermon to mine own…

Rothko Purple

 from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions

XVII. Nunc lento sonitu dicunt, morieris. Now, this bell tolling softly far another, says to me: Thou must die. 

The church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.

book-sculpture-david-kracov-book-of-life__880

As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all…

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…

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.

My God, my God, is this one of thy ways of drawing light out of darkness, to make him for whom this bell tolls, now in this dimness of his sight, to become a superintendent, an overseer, a bishop, to as many as hear his voice in this bell, and to give us a confirmation in this action? Is this one of thy ways, to raise strength out of weakness, to make him who cannot rise from his bed, nor stir in his bed, come home to me, and in this sound give me the strength of healthy and vigorous instructions? O my God, my God, what thunder is not a well-tuned cymbal, what hoarseness, what harshness, is not a clear organ, if thou be pleased to set thy voice to it? And what organ is not well played on if thy hand be upon it? Thy voice, thy hand, is in this sound, and in this one sound I hear this whole concert. I hear thy Jacob call unto his sons and say, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days: he says, That which I am now, you must be then. I hear thy Moses telling me,communion-of-saints-icon and all within the compass of this sound, This is the blessing wherewith I bless you before my death; this, that before your death, you would consider your own in mine. I hear thy prophet saying to Hezekiah, Set thy house in order, for thou shalt die, and not live: he makes use of his family, and calls this a setting of his house in order, to compose us to the meditation of death. I hear thy apostle saying, I think it meet to put you in remembrance, knowing that shortly I must go out of this tabernacle: this is the publishing of his will, and this bell is our legacy, the applying of his present condition to our use. I hear that which makes all sounds music, and all music perfect; I hear thy Son himself saying, Let not your hearts be troubled;

But, O my God, my God, since heaven is glory and joy, why do not glorious and joyful things lead us, induce us to heaven?…

Why hast thou changed thine old way, and carried us by the ways of discipline and mortification, by the ways of mourning and lamentation, by the ways of miserable ends and miserable anticipations…

animals-balaamO ETERNAL and most gracious God, who hast been pleased to speak to us, not only in the voice of nature, who speaks in our hearts, and of thy word, which speaks to our ears, but in the
speech of speechless creatures, in Balaam’s ass, in the speech of unbelieving men, in the confession of Pilate, in the speech of the devil himself, in the recognition and attestation of thy Son, I humbly accept thy voice in the sound of this sad and funeral bell. And first, I bless thy glorious name, that in this sound and voice I can hear thy instructions, in another man’s to consider mine own condition; and to know, that this bell which tolls for another, before it come to ring out, may take me in too. As death is the wages of sin it is due to me; as death is the end of sickness it belongs to me; and though so disobedient a servant as I may be afraid to die, yet to so merciful a master as thou I cannot be afraid to come; and therefore into thy hands, O my God, I commend my spirit, a surrender which I know thou wilt accept, whether I live or die…

…even in this dissolution, that though the body be going the way of all flesh, yet that soul is going the way of all saints. When thy Son cried out upon the cross, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? he spake not so much in his own person, as in the person of the church, and of his afflicted members, who in deep distresses might fear thy forsaking. This patient, O most blessed God, is one of them; in his behalf, and in his name, hear thy Son crying to thee, My God, (Ps. 31:5 ; 139) my God, why hast thou forsaken me? and forsake him not; but with thy left hand lay his body in the grave (if that be thy determination upon him), and with thy right hand receive his soul into thy kingdom, and unite him and us in one communion of saints. Amen.

from Death’s Duel

There now hangs that sacred body upon the cross, rebaptized in his own tears, and sweat, and embalmed in his own blood alive. There are those bowels of compassion which are so conspicuous, so manifested, as that you may see them through his wounds. There those glorious eyes grew faint in their sight, so as the sun, ashamed to survive them, departed with his light too. And then that Son of God, who was never from us, and yet had now come a new way unto us in assuming our nature, delivers that soul (which was never out of his Father’s hands) by a new way, a voluntary emission of it into his Father’s hands; for though to this God our Lord belonged these issues of death, so that considered in his own contract, he must necessarily die, yet at no breach or battery which they had made upon his sacred body issued his soul; but emisit, he gave up the ghost; and as God breathed a soul into the first Adam, so this second Adam breathed his soul into God, into the hands of God.

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.

from Holy Sonnets: Death, be not proud

And soonest our best men with thee do go…
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Resurection Icon from Chora