Show Me Dear Christ: by John Donne - Summary & Analysis

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Show Me Dear Christ, Thy Spouse So Bright And Clear

Show me dear Christ, thy spouse, so bright and clear.
What, is it she, which on the other shore
Goes richly painted? or which robbed and tore
Laments and mourns in Germany and here?
Sleeps she a thousand, then peeps up one year?
Is she self truth and errs? now new, now outwore?
Doth she, and did she, and shall she evermore
On one, on seven, or on no hill appear?

Dwells she with us, or like adventuring knights
First travail we to seek and then make love?
Betray kind husband thy spouse to our sights,
And let mine amorous soul court thy mild dove,
Who is most true, and pleasing to thee, then
When she' is embraced and open to most men.

Show me dear Christ, thy spouse, so bright and clear. What, is it she, which on the other shore Goes richly painted ? or which robbed and tore Laments and mourns in Germany and here? Sleeps she a thousand, then peeps up one year ? Is she self truth and errs ? now new, now outwore ? Doth she, and did she, and shall she evermore On one, on seven, or on no hill appear ?
Show Me Dear Christ

Summary and Analysis


      Show Me Dear Christ was written in 1617, after Donne joined the Anglican Church. It reveals his doubt as to which sect represents true Christianity, either Catholic, Protestant or Anglican. Gransden observes in his connection: "It is a personal prayer to Christ to let him see the true church, undivided because indivisible.... It shows clearly that in his heart the ideal, universal Church meant more to Donne than any particular form of Christianity." Is it possible to say which one of the three forms of Christianity is the best and the truest? Which sect does Christ like the most? In his Satire: Of Religion, Donne rejects the claims of different sects and feels that true religion does not bar honest doubt. Not blind faith, but faith supported by reason is the secret of religious truth - what he calls 'doubt wisely'. Here, in the same spirit, Donne seeks the true church - the bride of Christ.


      Line. 1-6: My dear Christ! Show me your wife (the church) who is bright and clear. Is she (the Church) the one gaily dressed and painted in another country (Roman Catholic Church) ? is she the one who was robbed and deprived of her decorations (Roman Catholic rituals and festivals) and who laments and mourns in Germany (Protestant Church) and here (Anglican Church)? Does the Church undergo a new movement after a thousand years or does it change once a year? Is she herself true or mistaken? Is she new or old?

      Line. 7-14: Does she and did she appear in the city of the seven hills (Rome) or of no hills? Does she (Church) live with us or does she test the courage of the adventurous knights and then make love to them? Like a kind, husband shows your wife to us and let my amorous soul court your mild dove (Church). She is the truest and most pleasing when all men love her and court her (the true Church).

Development of Thought:

      The poet appeals to Christ to show him the face of his beautiful bride. The Church is the bride of Christ. People seek the bride of Christ in different countries - Rome, Italy, Germany and England. The rise and fall of Christian sects - Catholicism, Protestantism and Anglicanism - depend largely on public opinion, attitude of the monarch and the spirit of the age. It is not possible to seek the true Church like the medieval knights who went in search of ladies for love-making. The Church is not a flirt interested in jilting people, or romantic heroine to be won by acts of valor and chivalry. Christ alone can discover for us the true Church which will be worthy of adoration and worship.

Critical Analysis:

      Cast in the sonnet pattern, the poem Show Me Dear Christ, shows the poet's keenness to know the true Church. He wants spiritual peace and balance which does not cast out the spirit of questioning and curiosity. The poet makes use of dexterous images. The Catholic Church goes 'richly painted'. The true bride of Christ is not the romantic lady adored by medieval knights. The image of the popular lady courted by many for her truth and loyalty refers to the true Church. There is an apparent paradox in the poet's request to Christ "Betray kind husband thy spouse to our sights". The poet has been able to mix the sensual with holy elements and portray divine love through secular love-making. All in all, the poem reveals the restless mind of a sincere and honest Christian wanting answers to his innermost questions concerning faith.

True Church - A Faithful Wife:

      Paradoxically enough, a lady who is gentle and popular is liked by her husband. This does not mean that she is faithless or loose. In the same way, Donne offers to court the mild dove-like bride of God, introduce her to an open society and make her acceptable and lovable. This open love and adoration of the public will enhance her prestige and faithfulness and as such she will be more satisfying to Christ, her husband. The true Church is not exclusive; it is like the social wife, loved and respected by men on account of her sociability and purity:

Who is most true and pleasing to thee, then
When she is embraced and open to most men.

      We may not take seriously the opinion of Leishman who regarded this sonnet as an approach to apostasy. He observes: "May. it not even sometimes have occurred to him (Donne) who had so sharp an eye for distinctions and subtleties that there was a point of view from which his renunciation of old religion (Catholicism) might be regarded, not as a conversion, but as an apostasy." Here is no plea for desertion of one sect for another. Donne is feeling his way through the maze of sects and pleading with Christ to lead kindly light and to the right Church and faith. His faith in God is unmistakable, but he seeks right guidance in a spirit of patience and humility.

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