Friday, July 29, 2011

John the Divine

Here is an excerpt from my collection of essays, entitled, "The Moving Finger Writes," coming soon on This essay concerns the religious and erotic passions of one of my favorite poets, John Donne, famous for his use of "conceits," during the literary period known "metaphysical." 

In John Donne's poem, The Extasie," two lovers lie like statues, imbued with a sense of wonder. Sated by love-making, their souls have departed their bodies temporarily, and hover above, suspended in a sort of mystical communion. That their souls could indulge in this spiritual communication is due solely to their physical needs, and the sensual longing which attracted them in the first place.

The poet says, "We owe (our bodies) them thanks, be¬cause they thus/Did us, to us, at first convay, Yeelded their forces, sense to us,' (53-55).

This poem encapsulates Donne's life-long dilemma of reconciling the desires of the body with the yearnings of the soul. And in order for one to fully appreciate the ardent Donne of the Divine Poems, one must first experience the suggestive, even lewd Donne who wrote Songs and Sonnets, for it was a single mind which created them all, a mind belonging to a man whose feet were firmly planted on the earth.

That Donne was a man of passion becomes as obvious in his religious poems as it does in his love poetry and though he is never pious in a passive sense, the reader feels a certain distance in some of The Holy Sonnets, in which he characterizes his god as victim: "Loe, faithful Virgin, yeelds himself to lye/ In prison, in thy wombe;..." ("Annunciation," 5-6), and in "Nativitie," "There he hath made himself to his intent/Weake enough, now into our world to come;" (3-4), and in "Crucifying," "...Loe, where condemned hee/Beares his owne crosse, with paine, yet by and by/When it beares him, he must beare more and die" (9-11).

These poems, regardless of their chronological placement in his writing, are filled with awe and a hesitant familiarity.  He remains tentative and somewhat at a distance, and only occasionally intrudes himself into the poem with the personal "I."

Copyright (c) 2011 by G. Sue McGhee


  1. Yes, and you've written it so eloquently. People of the cloth and people of the flesh often have strange affinities.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Ray. I agree. Perhaps it is passion which they share in their pursuit of the sublime.