Today is Good Friday, the day God died for sinful humanity. It should be a day for prayer and meditation solely; but you know as well as I many people will barely notice. So it was also in John Donne’s day: people found themselves, as they have throughout history, driven along by pleasure or business rather than the needs of the soul. Indeed, John Donne himself spent part of Good Friday , 1613, travelling. And while so doing, he wrote this poem.
Listen to me give a reading of the poem, and follow along with the text below.
Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward
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 motions, 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 me.
Who sees God’s 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 to’our antipodes,
Humbled below us? or that blood, which is
The seat of all our souls, if not of his,
Made dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn
By God for His apparel, ragged, and torn?
If on these things I durst not look, durst I
On his miserable mother cast mine eye,
Who was God’s partner here, and furnished thus
Half of that sacrifice, which ransomed us?
Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,
They are present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them; and thou look’st towards me,
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 rust, and my deformity,
Restore thine image, so much, by thy grace,
That thou mayst know me, and I’ll turn my face.