After reading through various Sunday Sabbath posts, Bill Carroll remarked, to my surprise, that he hadn't seen John Donne, but highly recommended I check him out. I was surprised because I knew I had posted my favorite poem by Donne, but after checking realized that I had shared it in a random post last February following the trauma of my wife's grandmother passing away unexpectedly. It is one of my favorites precisely due to its power in such moments of overwhelming grief; in that way it deeply reflects the apocalyptic, even triumphalistic undercurrent of the New Testament, that in the death and resurrection of Christ death has been defeated: a day is coming when death will die, once and for all. Donne articulates this hope with profound pathos.
My own poem afterward is a sort of extension of Donne's, which I wrote last week after finishing David Bentley Hart's The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? I hope the same spirit so evident in the righteous anger of Donne and the hopeful lament of Hart comes through in some meaningful measure.
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Death Be Not Proud
By John Donne
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
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December 26, 2004
The poet once penned an ode to death, but
Turned the cosmic tables at the end, by
Bidding bitter farewell; having then put
Death in its grave, he knelt his head to die.
We raise our fists to the heights of heaven,
To the untethered doors of the sea;
But by the end into that raw haven
Our times and our loves are swallowed fully
By the bloody kiss of sun and moon, earth
And sea. Entirely our ragings find
Submission into violence the sole birth
Allowed us from this womb so fiercely blind.
And yet our fists we shall not let beside;
The only sanity defies the tide.