Wednesday, December 21, 2005

John Donne: "Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb"

Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb
Now leaves His well-beloved imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough now into our world to come.
But, oh, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod's jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith's eyes, how He
Which fills all place (yet none holds Him) doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.

[Note, Donne renounced his Roman Catholic upbringing and the final line affirms Mary's part in Adam's transgression rather than the Catholic assertion of an Immaculate Conception--a view declared as late as 1854]


Bradford Mercer said...
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Emily said...

Thank you for posting this, as it is one of my favorite poems, but I think your note regarding the last line is not a very accurate poetical analysis and simply detracts from the beauty of the work and the message that Donne is truly trying to get across. His poem here is not concerned with Mary's sinlessness, which there is no reason to believe that Donne ever doubted. (Such opposition to the Immaculate Conception was not at all a factor during Donne's time--for any denomination. It was only clarified in the nineteenth century when such opposition arose that a response was needed by the Church.)
But I say that it is not accurate because woe is not the same thing as sin. Christ experienced woe, for woe is sorrow. Certainly woe can be caused by sin, one's own sin or the sin of others, but woe and sin are not the same thing. Mary is often described as sorrowful. Here, it seems the woe is derived from the fact of 'Herod's jealous general doom.' Donne is purposefully ambiguous in the last few lines, addressing both Joseph and the reader. It is the proper response of the reader's soul to want to join with the Holy Family in their plight through Egypt, which was no doubt, a woeful journey for both parents, as they were running in fear of their son's life. We, too, like Joseph, should join with Christ's mother in learning how to receive the Christ child with humility and grace, how we too might learn how to kiss him and go with him into dangerous, unknown lands. It is from Mary that we have our best example.

Again, thanks for posting. I remembered the first few lines but wanted to look up the rest.
--Emily Heyne, Ph.D.