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THE LAND OF THE WEST.
Here, in the midst of comparing himself to a map, and his physicians to cosmographers consulting the map, he changes without warning into a navigator whom they are trying to follow upon the map as he passes through certain straits-namely, those of the fever — towards his south-west discovery, Death. Grotesque as this is, the absurdity deepens in the end of the next stanza by a return to the former idea. He is alternately a map and a man sailing on the map of himself. But the first half of the stanza is lovely : my reader must remember that the region of the West was at that time the Land of Promise to England.
I joy that in these straits I see my West ;
For though those currents yield return to none,
In all flat maps (and I am one) are one,
It is hardly worth while, except for the strangeness of the phenomenon, to spend any time in elucidating this. Once more a map, he is that of the two hemispheres, in which the east of the one touches the west of the other. Could anything be much more unmusical than the line, “In all flat maps (and I am one) are one"? But the next stanza is worse.
Is the Pacific sea my home? Or are
The eastern riches ? Is Jerusalem ?
All straits, and none but straits are ways to them,
The meaning of the stanza is this: there is no earthly home: all these places are only straits that lead home, just as they themselves cannot be reached but through straits.
Let my reader now forget all but the first stanza, and take it along with the following, the last two:
We think that Paradise and Calvary,
Christ's cross and Adam's tree, stood in one place :
As the first Adam's sweat surrounds my face,
May the last Adam's blood my soul embrace.
By these his thorns give me his other crown;
Be this my text, my sermon to mine own:
Surely these are very fine, especially the middle verse of the former and the first verse of the latter stanza. The three stanzas together make us lovingly regret that Dr. Donne should have ridden his Pegasus over quarry and housetop, instead of teaching him
The next I quote is artistic throughout. Perhaps the fact, of which we are informed by Izaak Walton, “that he caused it to be set to a grave and solemn tune, and to be often sung to the organ by the choristers of St. Paul's church in his own hearing, especially at the evening service,” may have something to do with its degree of perfection. There is no sign of his usual haste about it. It is even elaborately rhymed after Norman fashion, the rhymes in each stanza being consonant with the rhymes in every stanza.
DR. DONNE'S EVENING HYMN.
A HYMN TO GOD THE FATHIER.
Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before ?1
For I have more.
Others to sin, and made my sins their door ? 3
For I have more.
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore ;
I fear no more.
In those days even a pun might be a serious thing : witness the play in the last stanza on the words son and sun—not a mere pun, for the Son of the Father is the Sun of Righteousness : he is Life and Light.
What the Doctor himself says concerning the hymn, appears to me not only interesting but of practical value. He “did occasionally say to a friend, • The words of this hymn have restored to me the same thoughts of joy that possessed my soul in my sickness, when I composed it.'” What a help it
i The guilt of Adam's first sin, supposed by the theologians of Dr. Donne's time to be imputed to Adam's descendants.
2 The past tense: ran.
would be to many, if in their more gloomy times they would but recall the visions of truth they had, and were assured of, in better moments !
Here is a somewhat strange hymn, which yet possesses, rightly understood, a real grandeur:
A HYMN TO CHRIST
At the Author's last going into Germany.?
They never will despise.
now I go
Alas, thou lov'st not me!
1 He was sent by James I. to assist an embassy to the Elector Palatine, who had married his daughter Elizabeth.
2 He had lately lost his wife, for whom he had a rare love.
DR. DONNE: HIS HOLY SONNETS.
Seal then this bill of my divorce to all
An everlasting night.
To do justice to this poem, the reader must take some trouble to enter into the poet's mood.
It is in a measure distressing that, while I grant with all my heart the claim of his “Muse's white sincerity," the taste in—I do not say of—some of his best poems should be such that I will not present them.
Out of twenty-three Holy Sonnets, every one of which, I should almost say, possesses something remarkable, I choose three. Rhymed after the true Petrarchian fashion, their rhythm is often as bad as it can be to be called rhythm at all. Yet these are
Thou hast made me, and shall thy work decay ?
Repair me now, for now mine end doth haste ;
I run to death, and death meets me as fast,
Despair behind, and death before doth cast
Such terror; and my feeble flesh doth waste
By thy leave I can look, I rise again ;
That not one hour myself I can sustain :