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John Donne's Holy Sonnet XVII

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

John Donne

Introduction and Text of Holy Sonnet XVII

As the devout speaker in John Donne's classic work, The Holy Sonnets, progresses toward his goal of union with the Divine Reality, he poses many questions and examines many possible solutions to his philosophical conundrum. His physical body is rapidly deteriorating, and he knows he has little time to muse on the issues that seem to block his soul from his goal of soul-realization.

The speaker is continuing to fashion his little dramas that depict his vigorous examination of all he knows and wishes to learn. By reflecting back to his beloved wife's influence, the speaker is then reminded of how the Heavenly Father seeks His children just as His children seek their Heavenly Father.

Holy Sonnet XVII

Since she whom I loved hath paid her last debt
To Nature, and to hers, and my good is dead,
And her soul early into heaven ravishèd,
Wholly on heavenly things my mind is set.
Here the admiring her my mind did whet
To seek Thee, God; so streams do show the head;
But though I have found Thee, and Thou my thirst hast fed,
A holy thirsty dropsy melts me yet.
But why should I beg more love, whenas Thou
Dost woo my soul, for hers offering all Thine:
And dost not only fear lest I allow
My love to saints and angels, things divine,
But in Thy tender jealousy dost doubt
Lest the world, flesh, yea, devil put Thee out.

Reading of Holy Sonnet XVII

Commentary

Holy Sonnet XVII finds the speaker examining his love for his late wife as the motivation for seeking the will of his Heavenly Father.

First Quatrain: Remembering His Beloved Wife

Since she whom I loved hath paid her last debt
To Nature, and to hers, and my good is dead,
And her soul early into heaven ravishèd,
Wholly on heavenly things my mind is set.

Addressing the Beloved Creator, the speaker refers to his wife, who preceded him in death. He described her leaving her physical encasement as paying "her last debt." And she had paid in full to "Nature" as well as her own self, leaving the speaker at a loss and feeling that his "good is dead."

The speaker reports that she left her body while still young, and that loss has motivated the speaker to seek "heavenly things," thus he contends that his "mind is set" "wholly on those things divine.

Readers will have become aware that the speaker is indeed focused on the Divine Reality and all of Its qualities and features as he fashions his little dramas of study and discovery. His intensity has grown as he is concerned for his own soul, which he intuits will be leaving its physical encasement soon.

Second Quatrain: God Motivation

Here the admiring her my mind did whet
To seek Thee, God; so streams do show the head;
But though I have found Thee, and Thou my thirst hast fed,
A holy thirsty dropsy melts me yet.

The speaker then reveals that it was, in fact, his beloved wife, particularly his admiration of her, that first sharpened his desire to become united with the Over-Soul. He colorfully compares his flowing into Reality awareness to "streams" that reveal their source.

Nevertheless, the speaker, despite the fact that he has continued his journey to soul-awareness, realizes that the Ultimate Reality has continued to feed "his thirst." The speaker, however, has maintained an unfortunate consternation regarding this ultimate destination. No doubt, he is once again reminded of his earlier unholy lapses into physicality.

Third Quatrain: Questioning the Divine Beloved

But why should I beg more love, whenas Thou
Dost woo my soul, for hers offering all Thine:
And dost not only fear lest I allow
My love to saints and angels, things divine,

The speaker then poses a question to his Beloved Divine, seeking to know why he continues to feel the need of seeking "more love." He intuits that he is being sought by the Divine, even as he seeks union with the Divine. Plus he knows that the suffering experienced by his late, beloved wife has been consumed in the fires of Divine Love.

The speaker now suspects that his Divine Creator may detect in him a weakening of his love as he spreads that love to "saints and angels" and other "things divine." By assigning such discrimination to the Ultimate Reality, the speaker can reflect on his own level of fear that may still be inhibiting his progress on the spiritual path.

The Couplet: What Worldly Doubt Extinguishes

But in Thy tender jealousy dost doubt
Lest the world, flesh, yea, devil put Thee out.

Not only does a slight fear of unconcentrated Divine affection reside in him, but also there seems to exist a level of "tender jealousy" along with some "doubt" that might cause the Blessed Creator to fail to appear before the speaker to consummate the ultimate unity.

The speaker desires above all else to be united with his Divine Creator. The speaker, therefore, examines every thought and feeling that arises in him. He questions his Creator as an earthly son would question his earthly father because he knows he still has much to learn and little time in which to learn it.

Monumental Effigy

Reading of "Death's Duel"

© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

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