Saturday, 31 March 2012

A Hymn to God the Father

This is the anniversary of the death in 1631 of John Donne, and after pondering for a little which poem to post in his honour, I decided on one of his most famous, 'A Hymn to God the Father' - mostly because of what Izaak Walton says of this poem in his Life of Dr John Donne:

I have the rather mentioned this Hymn, for that he caused it to be set to a most grave and solemn tune, and to be often sung to the organ by the Choristers of St. Paul’s Church, in his own hearing; especially at the Evening Service; and at his return from his customary devotions in that place, did occasionally say to a friend, "the words of this Hymn have restored to me the same thoughts of joy that possessed my soul in my sickness, when I composed it. And, O the power of church-music! that harmony added to this Hymn has raised the affections of my heart, and quickened my graces of zeal and gratitude; and I observe that I always return from paying this public duty of prayer and praise to God, with an unexpressible tranquility of mind, and a willingness to leave the world."

Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore ;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore ;
And having done that, Thou hast done ;
I fear no more.


Priscilla said...

What a wonderfully powerful poem (and I like the musical setting). Never read this one before. I especially appreciate the middle couplets of the first two stanzas--a very accurate depiction of the struggle of the Christian life.

Clerk of Oxford said...

Yes, it's an extraordinary poem!