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Good Friday, 2013. Driving Westward

After Donne’s ‘Good-Friday, 1613. Riding Westward’

Lately the lover, shortly to be priest,
although ‘my Soules forme bends toward the East’,
his horse’s head faced firmly to the west.
‘Pleasure or businesse’ called him, he confessed,
despite the new ‘devotion’ he had learned
to One who suffered while his back was turned.

And is ‘mans Soule’, as he proposed, ‘a Spheare’,
subject to sudden lurches of career
as other spheres exert their influence,
distracting reason by the lure of sense?
(His light of reason was the fire of faith,
sparked by ‘a Sunne’ who, setting, banished death.)
I would say yes; and we part company
only in this: reason and sense for me
act on the soul merely within the skull.
I know no other, outer Agent’s pull.

Donne knew an Other; in his memory
he sees Christ in His bloody agony,
‘Made durt of dust’, that sinners might be clean.
His mind relives the drama of the scene —
darkness at noon, the cracking of the rocks.
He argues for his faith by paradox.
The hands that ‘tune all spheares’, so wide their ‘span’,
though ‘peirc’d with… holes’, still play upon this man;
in him, the Master of the universe
is dextrous in resolving Adam’s curse.
On this ‘good’ Friday, best and worst of days,
with reins and whip in hand the rider prays
the All-in-All who made Himself as nought,
consenting to be mocked and flayed for sport,
to scourge his back to make his sickness whole.
Christ’s gravity is hauling in his soul.

He cantered and I drive through Warwickshire
this evening in the hesitating year,
both heading into Wales’s baffled spring.
What comfort can a real sunset bring
now God is dead and shut up in the tomb
and it is hard to say, ‘Thy kingdom come,’
even for one who, to his soul, believed?
And yet — his final paradox achieved —
if ‘Soules’ be ‘Spheares’ and rolling westward, we
will come at last to that from which we flee.

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by the author

Good-Friday, 1613. Riding Westward — John Donne

Let mans Soule be a Spheare, and then, in this,
The intelligence that moves, devotion is,
And as the other Spheares, by being growne
Subject to forraigne motion, lose their owne,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a yeare their naturall forme obey:
Pleasure or businesse, so, our Soules admit
For their first mover, and are whirld by it.
Hence is’t, that I am carryed towards the West
This day, when my Soules forme bends toward the East.
There I should see a Sunne, by rising set,
And by that setting endlesse day beget;
But that Christ on this Crosse, did rise and fall,
Sinne 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 selfe life, must dye;
What a death were it then to see God dye?
It made his owne Lieutenant Nature shrinke,
It made his footstoole crack, and the Sunne winke.
Could I behold those hands which span the Poles,
And tune all spheares at once peirc’d with those holes?
Could I behold that endlesse 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 durt of dust, or that flesh which was worne
By God, for his apparell, rag’d, and torne?
If on these things I durst not looke, durst I
Upon his miserable mother cast mine eye,
Who was Gods partner here, and furnish’d thus
Halfe of that Sacrifice, which ransom’d 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 mee,
O Saviour, as thou hang’st upon the tree;
I turne my backe to thee, but to receive
Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.
O thinke mee worth thine anger, punish mee,
Burne off my rusts, and my deformity,
Restore thine Image, so much, by thy grace,
That thou may’st know mee, and I’ll turne my face.

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by Peter Hetherington