Hymn To God, My God, In My Sickness : by John Donne

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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,
And what I must do then, think here before,

Whilst my physicians by their love are grown
Cosmographers, and I their map, who lie
Flat on this bed, that by them may be shown
That this is my south-west discovery
Per fretum frebris, by these straits to die,

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.

Is the Pacific Sea my home? Or are
The eastern riches? Is Jerusalem?
Anyan, and Magellan, and Gibraltar,
All straits, and none but straits, are ways to them,
Whether where Japhet dwelt, or Cham, or Shem.

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 wrapped receive me Lord,
By these his thorns give me his other crown;
And as to others' souls I preached thy word,
Be this my text, my sermon to mine own,
Therefore that he may raise the Lord throws down.

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, And what I must do then, think here before,
Hymn To God, My God, In My Sickness

Critical Analysis

      According to Izaak Walton, this Hymn To God, My God, In My Sickness was written by John Donne eight days before his death in 1631. However, Helen Gardner and R. C. Bald state that this hymn was written in 1623 when the poet was seriously ill. Whatever may be the date of the poem, there is no doubt that the poet has a feeling of imminent death. His thoughts therefore turn to Christ, God and Heaven. This is one of his best religious poems and shows his intense love of God and readiness to suffer for winning God's Grace. Donne's prayer in the last stanza that Christ should receive him in heaven, and the reiterator of the text of the sermon "Therefore that he may rise, God throws down" - sums up his hope of immortality after passing through the strait of death.

Development of Thought:

      Lying on his death-bed the poet's thoughts turn to God and Heaven where the choir of angels sings hymns to the glory of God. He wishes to join the musicians and therefore he wants to tune his own poetic faculty to compose a poem which will express his thoughts about his life in the next world.

Doctors as Geographers:

      Donne describes his present situation while lying in bed surrounded by physicians. He thinks that the doctors are cartographers and he is a map. They examine him carefully and make a 'south-west discovery' that he will die of fever. According to him, the south is the region of heat and the west is the direction of the sun-set (of his life). So he expects to die soon of high fever. The poet is not afraid of death. On a flat map, the west and the east lie close to each other. The west symbolizes death and the east symbolizes resurrection. The poet feels that he will go to Heaven after death and therefore he feels joyful that his end should come through fever.

The Paradise:

      Where could paradise be situated? Where could he locate it on the map of the world ? Is it somewhere in the Pacific Ocean or in the blessed East where Christ was born ? Perhaps paradise is Jerusalem itself. He would go to his future habitat through the strait of Anyan or Magellan or Gibraltar. It is sure that the way to paradise is through some strait (suffering) and it may be situated in any part of Asia, Africa or Europe - the regions allotted to each of the three sons of Adam. Perhaps paradise is situated in Calvary, the place where Christ was crucified. Adam is the first man and Christ the second Adam - both present in the poet himself. The sweat due to his fever is like the sweat of Adam produced by the latter's fall. The poet wishes that blood of Christ may redeem his soul and bring about his complete transformation.

The Crown of Thorns:

      In the end, the poet prays to God to accept his soul for he has been purified by the sacrifice of Christ. He has suffered for his sins and his crown of thorns which he is wearing now may be replaced by the crown of God's grace. As a preacher, he has preached God's word to others and he wants that the motto for his soul should be the following text "that he may raise, the Lord throws down." He has earned merit through his own suffering and therefore his soul should be accepted in Heaven.

Critical Remarks:

      This is a poem of six stanzas of five lines each. It is a serious and sincere poem containing nothing of the levity and fun generally associated with Donne's poems. The image of geographical exploration runs throughout the poem. Tne poet's soul goes on a voyage or discovery after the death. For this purpose, maps and distant regions are mentioned. The straits (sufferings) through which the soul has to pass on its voyage to paradise are localised. The three distant continents link the West with the East. The East is the place of Christ and he is responsible for the resurrection of man. There is the concept of two Adams, the first Adam suffered the fall from paradise, the second Adam redeemed the original sin and opened the doors of paradise. Christ's suffering and redemption makes the poet confident about the acceptance of his soul by God in Heaven. This poem is quite different from other poems which indicate his tear of death, Judgement Day and Hell. Here the poet is quite hopeful of his reception in paradise. Clay Hunts calls it, "the most distinguished achievement in religious poetry". None of his other religious poems can match its symphonic richness of suggestion, and its balancing of intellectual subtlety with sustained emotion, of intricate precision in detail with a controlling sense of form. In the first stanza, Donne states the psychological problem which this argument must solve ; he is trying to establish his peace of mind before he dies by coming to accept intellectually the justness of God's ways toward him in heaven. The essence of the argument which the rest of the poem develops is that death, and physical sufferings of his illness must be accepted willingly ; firstly, because it is only through suffering and death that man can reach heavenly bliss; secondly, because this experience is requisite if God's dealings with man are to be just; and finally, because Donne himself is confident of salvation through Christ's Redemption.

Paraphrase:

      Stanza 1 : (The poem was composed a week before the poet's death. Here he expresses his feelings on his death-bed and is preparing himself to be acceptable to God and to deserve a place in Heaven.) Since I am going to Heaven - the place where a choir of angels chant hymns forever - where I too will sing with them the praise of God. Before entering Heaven and while I am still in the world, I shall tune my instrument of poetry to express my thoughts on what I shall do in Heaven.

      Stanza 2 : As I lie on my death-bed surrounded by my physicians who diagnose my disease, I feel I am a map and my doctors are cartographers (map-makers). The doctors make a discovery (the south is the land of heat as he suffers from fever, and the west is the region of sun-set or death). They think I shall die of fever - a strait through which I shall travel from this world to the next.

      Stanza 3 : I feel happy that through this fever I shall leave the world. The currents of this strait of death do good to no one. Why should I be afraid of death when it causes me no harm or injury? On a flat map of the world, the west and the east are very near. The west is the place ot death, while the east is the place of Christ. Death and resurrection are so close to each other. This thought makes me happy on my death-bed.

      Stanza 4 : Where is Heaven - my destination - located? Is it some island in the Pacific sea? Is it some rich place in the east? Is it Jerusalem? Am I to pass through the strait of Anyan (the west America) or the strait of Magellan or the strait of Gibraltar? Only by passing through a strait (suffering) he can go to Heaven. Heaven may be located in any of the three continents given to the three sons of Noah, in Europe the land given to Japhet, in Africa the land given to Cham or in Asia, the region given to Shem.

      Stanza 5 : Where is Paradise situated? Is it in Calvary-the place where Christ was crucified? Or is it in the Garden of Eden where Adam stood by the apple tree? Oh God, I am Adam the original sinner and also Christ the second Adam. The sweat of Adam is on my face. The blood of the sacred Adam will redeem me. I suffer for my sins in the hope of redemption by Christ.

      Stanza 6 : Oh God, accept my soul sanctified by the blood of Christ. Replace the Crown of Thorns (sufferings) of Christ with the second crown of your mercy. I preached your sermon (Donne was Dean of St. Paul's Church) to other souls that suffering is a prelude to redemption. Let this sermon be applied to my case. I have repented and therefore my soul should be received in Heaven.

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