Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward

Given the holiness of this day for many of you, we will forego Miller Time Friday and instead have a more contemplative time, which whether or not you are religious, may be of interest to you.

Today marks the 400th Anniversary of John Donne's remarkable poem, Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward.  I first read this poem in 1981 at university and for whatever reason, I have taken out my trusty Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume I, and re-read the poem each year on Good Friday ever since.  You can tell it is pretty beat up.

Written in 1613 in a letter to his friend, the poem was never meant for publication and in fact was not published until 1633 after Donne's death.  It was a deeply personal poem to describe his feelings towards Christ, God and redemption through the imagery of the Resurrection. 

Donne has been grouped as a member of the metaphysical poets for literary purposes and his life's story is fascinating in the extreme, his work a mixture of the divine and the profane, often intermingled.

To have the opportunity to read this poem once more again on its 400th anniversary is very special to me.  I checked the internet to see what celebrations were happening (i.e. am I the only geek who is excited by this???).

Imagine my delight to see that Polesworth Abbey, located in North Warwickshire England, is having a weekend workshop to celebrate Donne and the poem.  The activities are described as follows:

The day includes a masterclass on Donne's poem, an overview of his whole work, and the chance to explore the Polesworth Poetry Trail and the chance to write your own lyric in response to so much inspiration.

Am I the only one desperate to get on a plane to see the Polesworth Poetry Trail, then take a good hike around the country, perhaps ending at a local pub (I hope I will find one open) to have a toast to John Donne and to this day?  My husband tells me that yes, I am the only one desperate to do this. 

The signifigance of Poleworth Abbey to the poem is that the recipient of Donne's letter, and the remarkable poem contained therein, was Sir Henry Goodere, then owner of Poleworth Hall, which now serves as the vicarage for Polesworth Abbey. 

While Polesworth Abbey is holding its workshop and celebration on April 2nd, the exact date of Good Friday in 1613, they will read the poem during their Good Friday Service this morning.  I have decided to stick with my own tradition and read it as well today, as well as some other works by Donne, in celebration of a remarkable gift to literature which was endured for 400 years.

And so in honour of John Donne and of this Good Friday, I will end with the poem itself.  I wish you all a lovely day and as always, stay safe out there..

Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward

By John Donne 1572–1631
Let mans Soule be a Spheare, and then, in this,
The intelligence that moves, devotion is,
And as the other Spheares, by being growne
Subject to forraigne motion, lose their owne,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a yeare their naturall forme obey:
Pleasure or businesse, so, our Soules admit
For their first mover, and are whirld by it.
Hence is't, that I am carryed towards the West
This day, when my Soules forme bends toward the East.
There I should see a Sunne, by rising set,
And by that setting endlesse day beget;
But that Christ on this Crosse, did rise and fall,
Sinne had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I'almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for mee.
Who sees Gods face, that is selfe life, must dye;
What a death were it then to see God dye?
It made his owne Lieutenant Nature shrinke,
It made his footstoole crack, and the Sunne winke.
Could I behold those hands which span the Poles,
And tune all spheares at once peirc'd with those holes?
Could I behold that endlesse height which is
Zenith to us, and our Antipodes,
Humbled below us? or that blood which is
The seat of all our Soules, if not of his,
Made durt of dust, or that flesh which was worne
By God, for his apparell, rag'd, and torne?
If on these things I durst not looke, durst I
Upon his miserable mother cast mine eye,
Who was Gods partner here, and furnish'd thus
Halfe of that Sacrifice, which ransom'd us?
Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,
They'are present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them; and thou look'st towards mee,
O Saviour, as thou hang'st upon the tree;
I turne my backe to thee, but to receive
Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.
O thinke mee worth thine anger, punish mee,
Burne off my rusts, and my deformity,
Restore thine Image, so much, by thy grace,
That thou may'st know mee, and I'll turne my face.


  1. DONNE WITH IT Learned something new today WMM. Always amazed me what a busy man Donne was during his life. We know the social satirist and poet, but also a lawyer, MP, cleric, Dean of St. Paul's, traveller, brief convict due to marriage and father of 12.

    Have you read Joseph Brodsky's poem "Elegy for for John Donne"?

    1. Yes, but not for about 30 years - off Togo find it!

      Doesn't Poleworth Abby sound romantic? I want robe it's dowager!

  2. I was wondering where you were this morning, as I checked at 4:30am my time, and it was still Thursday here. Nice to learn something new today. Have a great Easter Wendy!

    1. hi kathy! hope you are having a great day! I am looking forward to a good weekend and the sun is shining here today, so hope to go for a nice long walk!

  3. Thank you. Yes-but not since college. Absolutely I'd join you. As an American, I am always so intrigued that the buildings from that time still exist, and many are still in use. Awe inspiring.

  4. A fabulous post, as always!!!! The Norton Anthologies are the absolute best. And, I love discussing the circumstances surrounding the publication of literary texts.

    1. I bet you do and would know A LOT more than me!!! I always love the Norton Anthologies! It is funny - since being on leave I have started to read and write poetry again, which I haven't done for MANY years!!!

  5. Wendy you should be at that weekend workshop, imagine the kindred spirits you'd meet there.
    This poem gives me chills, thanks so much for sharing it with us! I love that you read this every year on Good Friday.

    1. It is a good poem, isn't it??? He was born a ROman Catholic and then lapsed and then "encouraged" to become Anglican by King James! I just love that he was sending poetry to friends!!!

  6. Oh he was my favourite poet when I was at school, I still know a lot of his poems off by heart, he was a fascinating man and had a real bite to him.

    1. I am so glad you love him, too! He was a real radical in my eyes!

  7. Thanks for this post. I had a bit of a love/hate relationships with John Donne's poems when I was a silly schoolgirl. We always used to groan when it was time to study the Metaphysical poets....
    I didn't know that it was any type of anniversary, thanks for reminding me of his poems. I think it's time for me to dig out my copy of George Herbert, too... Easter Wings might be a good one to start with.
    Hope you have peaceful weekend!

    1. Thanks Ruth! I think our teachers would have done better to explain more about their lives - some were so dramatic - might have made it more palatable!


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