Dusk by Alphonse Mucha
Given the recent solar activity, I thought a poem on the sun might be appropriate. Donne, whose poetry included sonnets both sacred and secular, was featured in Monday's post
. Here, on a different note, is a poem written to the sun. In it, Donne takes the sun down a notch, scoffing that although other lovers may base their activities on his rising, falling, or seasonal affect, Donne and his lady love are quite impervious from this tyranny.
Donne can easily exercise his disdain of the sun - a blink is all that's necessary - but doing so would deprive himself of the source of the only light that matters, the beauty of his beloved. Others may be blinded after gazing upon the celestial sphere, but the poet is concerned lest, enthralled by the beauty of his mistress, that old, unruly Sun might have himself have difficulty in seeing. Perhaps, if he can still manage, the aging orb might take a gander at Donne's lady love to observe if all the splendors of the known world are not found in her. And, as she encompasses the wealth of all states and all countries, the Sun might enjoy a well-deserved vacation, or at least go part-time. Since their bedroom certainly comprises the entire sphere, once they are warmed, the sun can consider himself finished for the day.The Sun Rising
John DonneBusy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run ?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices ;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
Thy beams so reverend, and strong
Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long.
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and to-morrow late tell me,
Whether both th' Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou left'st them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, "All here in one bed lay."
She's all states, and all princes I;
Nothing else is;
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honour's mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world's contracted thus ;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere.
One of God's great paradoxes - life from death - was a theme that ran through the scripture stories from yesterday's liturgical readings.The Old Testament story took up the renaming of Abraham. God comes to Abram with the good news that he will be the father of many nations, that Sarai (to be known as Sarah) will become the mother of kings of nations. Even though this news arrives in the autumn of child-bearing years, Abraham believes God. The Epistle reading (Romans 4) tells us that
He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb.
For this powerful faith, God grants him the gift of righteousness,
The Gospel reading presents the same conundrum. In Matthew 8, Jesus announces that "the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again." Peter's strong denial "May it never be, Lord!" gets him a blistering rebuke. "Get behind me, Satan," Jesus says. Unlike Peter, Jesus knows that his death will be the means of the restoration of the cosmos, bringing new life to all of God's creation. This is God's way, and so he continues his conversation by issuing this challenge to his disciples:
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?
You must be willing to give everything to me, Jesus tells those who call him "master," and then I will release it back to you - a miracle child, new life into dry bones, healing and forgiveness, and ultimately a resurrection body that will live and love in the restored heaven and earth.
Choosing our own death, even with the promise of new life, is rarely easy. We are made to seek life; our bodies panic if we cannot breathe, we lash out at those who threaten our safety or security. But God calls us to the counterintuitive choice of death as the means for true life.
No one expresses this struggle better than John Donne in his poem Batter My Heart. The imagery shocks us with graphic couplings - overthrow me so that I may rise and stand, imprison me so I may be free, ravish (rape) me or I will not be chaste (pure). Donne grapples with the reality of taking up a cross. His self is like an imprisoned city, belonging to another, but strongly barricaded against the true owner. The resistance is captained by his viceroy, Reason, who adamantly refuses any action that smells of surrender. He has either been taken captive or brain-washed, and so can offer no help in the effort to let the real king into the gates.
Like the apostle Paul, who cannot do what he wishes, (Romans 7) Donne is incapable of opening himself up to the love of God on his own. And so he calls for assistance. It is my desire to submit to your love, he says, but you will need to come with your power to make it happen, you will need to batter down the gates yourself. The plea is as strong as the bondage Donne recognizes; the language meant to shock. But Donne is battling for his life, freed from all that keeps him bound. And he grounds his petition in the knowledge that he entreats the true Lover of his soul, who alone has power to free from bondage and make him stand anew.
Batter my Heart
Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town to'another due,
Labor to'admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly'I love you, and would be lov'd fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me,'untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you'enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.