A Hymn To God The Father: Summary and Analysis

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A Hymn To God The Father

Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that through which I run,
And do run still: though still I do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For, I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won
Other to sin ? and made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year, or two: but wallowed in, a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by thy self, that at my death thy son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore
And, having done that, thou hast done
I fear no more.

Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun, Which was my sin, though it were done before ? Wilt thou forgive that through which I run, And do run still : though still I do deplore ? When thou hast done, thou hast not done, For, I have more.
A Hymn To God The Father

Summary and Analysis


      A Hymn To God The Father was written by John Donne when he suffered from a serious illness in 1623. He felt that he might not survive. This nearness and fear.. of death made him repent for his sins. In a truly metaphysical manner, the poet could not avoid a pun on his own name (Donne). The poem ends on a note of hope of salvation, peace and piety. Donne is repentant and humbly submits himself to God's will. Garrod remarks in this connection: "No poem gives more sense of conflict of love, of faith and hope Snatched and held desperately". Izaak Walton wrote that the poet had the hymn set to a solemn tune and often had it sung at St. Paul's Church. The poet said: "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. And O the power of church music! That, harmony added to this hymn has raised the affections of my heart and quickened my graces of zeal and gratitude: and I observe that I always return from paying my public duty of prayer and praise to God was an inexpressible tranquillity of mind, and a willingness to leave the world"


      Stanza 1: O God, will you forgive me for the original sin - the sin of Adam - which I carry from the time of my birth and which was done by my first ancestor? God, will you also forgive me for my current sin the sin I am committing now and which I still continue to do? I am sorry for sinning but perhaps I cannot help it. After you have forgiven me for the original sin and the current sin, you have still to do something more for me, as I will need forgiveness for sins to be committed in the future sins not yet done (Donne). (This is a pun on 'done' and 'Donne'. After God has 'done' His best, He does not have 'Donne' on His side.)

      Stanza 2: O God, will you forgive me for the great sin I have committed in heading others to the path of sin. My sin has been a gateway to take others to the path of sin. Will God forgive me for the sin which I resisted committing for a year or more, but to which I succumbed and which I have committed for a very long period. Even when You (God) have forgiven me for all these sins, You will not have Donne on Your sphere.

      Stanza 3: My greatest sin is fear which means lack of faith in the Saviour and divine grace. I am afraid that when my life comes to an end, my soul may perish on the shore of the sea of eternity and may not be able to cross it. God, assure me that on my death, the light of Your son (Christ) will shine on me (his grace and love will be extended to me) like the light of the sun (mark the pun on the word sun/son) which shines now, and has been shining so far. After you have given me this assurance (of love and mercy), you will have Donne on your side. I shall no more be afraid of sin (on account of the hope of divine grace).

Development of Thought:

      John Donne brings with him the original sin of Adam of which he is a sharer since Adam was the first of mankind. The sin was committed much before his death. Therefore, the poet seeks God's mercy for the sins he is committing currently and for which he is sad and repentant. Even when God has pardoned the original sin and his current sins, it would not be enough for him. Though God has 'done' all that is required he will not have 'Donne' on his side, because the poet has many more sins to his account.

      The poet remembers his past sins. Donne has had a fast life in London for several years and had illicit sex with many women. He had corrupted many persons and led them into a life of sin. Moreover, he had to his credit sins which he avoided for a year or two, but he subsequently succumbed to them for 20 years or more. Even so, he is repentant for all his sins and also for those who committed sins under his influence. If God forgives him for all these sins, he still has many more sins. Even so, God will not be able to claim Donne on His side.

Critical Analysis:

      The poem is simple and sincere. It records faithfully, the feeling of the poet when he thought he might not survive a serious illness. Even so, the usual metaphysical images are there. There is a recurring pun on the word done/Donne. At the end, God will have 'done', ie. He will both have finished and have 'Donne' on his side. There is another pun on Sun/ Son. Donne wants that on his death the son of God may shine on him, as the sun shines now and has been doing so far. The poem marks a turning point in the poet's life. After his illness (1623) he engrossed himself in clerical duties, praying and preaching. He no more engaged himself in any of the sex intrigues which characterized his youthful life. This may be regarded as a religious poem and it has no learned references or remote allusions. It is frank and altogether an utterance coming from the core of the heart of the poet. The conflict within the soul is laid bare, but there is no mystical touch. Donne did not lose himself in the mystic mood because it would cut him off from the world he loved and admired. Helen White writes in this connection: "The result is that the marvelous thrust into the ineffable is followed by a quick pull into the world here and now with its lucid sense detail and its ineluctable common sense".

Sin of Fear:

      Perhaps the greatest sin of which the poet is guilty is the sin of fear. Fear implies lack of faith in God's compassion and kindness. He feels that at the last moment of his life, he may perish with fear. This will be a great tragedy and may mean his damnation. The poet therefore prays to God to swear that at the time of his death, His son (Christ) will shine upon him like the sun which now shines on him. If God does this, He will have Donne on his side. Then all his sins will come to an end. The poem ends with a note of hope and renewed faith in God. There is an evolution in the development of thought of the poem. It begins on a note of questioning and doubt; it records the feelings of sin and fear, and at the end the fear is banished "I fear no more", and there is the prospect of redemption and salvation.

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