For one of my birthdays in college my mom bought me the complete collection of all John Donne’s writing. Little did I know upon reading it that John Donne would become one of my favorite poets. Every Easter I read his, arguably most famous, sonnet: Holy Sonnet X – Death Be Not Proud. I stumbled upon the following Crown of Sonnets, La Corona, a few years back and with the help of one of my all time favorite professors came to love it.
I’ve reproduced it below with some adjustments to the archaic spelling and grammar in the hope that it’ll be more accessible. If you take the time I think you’ll find yourself blessed this Advent, Christmas season. If you don’t really want to slog through an intricate series of seven sonnets I wouldn’t blame you, life is busy, but do take the time to read “III. The Nativity” a few times over because I think it’ll make the Christmas scene come alive for you.
I. Deign at my hands this crown of prayer and praise,
Weaved in my low devout melancholy,
Thou which of good, has, yea art treasury,
All changing unchanged Ancient of Days,
But do not, with a vile crown of frail bayes,
Reward my Muse’s white sincerity,
But what thy thorny crown gained, that give me,
A crown of Glory, which does floor always;
The end crowns our works, but thou crowns our ends,
For, at our end begins our endless rest,
The first last end, now zealously possesed,
With a strong sober thirst, my soul attends.
‘Tis time that heart and voice be lifted high,
Salvation to all that will is nigh.
Salvation to all that will is nigh,
That All, which always is All every where,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo, faithful Virgin, yields himself to lie
in prison, in thy womb; and though he there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet he’will wear
Taken from thence, flesh, which Death’s force may try.
Ere by the sphears time was created, thou
Was in his mind, who is thy Son, and Brother,
Whom thou conceivest, conceived; yea thou art now
Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother,
Thou’hast light in dark; and shut in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves his wellbeloved imprisonment,
There he has made himself to his intent
Wake enough, now into our world to come;
But Oh, for thee, for him, has the Inn no room?
Yet lay him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars, and wisemen will travel to prevent
Th’effect of Herod’s jealous general doom;
Sees thou, my Soul, with thy faith’s eye, how he
which fills all place, yet none holds him, doth lie?
Was not his pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pittied by thee?
Kiss him, and with him into Egypt go,
With his kind mother, who partakes thy woe.
With his kind mother, who partakes thy woe,
Joseph turn back; see where you child doth sit,
Blowing, yea blowing out those sparks of wit,
Which himself on the Doctors did bestow;
Thy Word but lately could not speak, and lo
It suddenly speaks wonders, whence comes it,
That all which was, all which should be writ,
A shallow seeming child, should deeply know?
His Godhead was not soul to his manhood,
Nor had time mellowed him to this ripeness,
But as for one which has a long task, ’tis good,
With the Sun to begin his business,
He in his ages morning thus began
By miracles exceeding power of man.
By miracles exceeding power of man,
He faith in some, envy in some begat,
For, what weak spirits admire, ambitious, hate;
In both affections may to him ran,
But Oh! The worst are most, they will and can,
Alas, and do, unto the immaculate,
Whose creature Fate is, now prescibe a Fate,
Measuring self-lifes infinty to a span,
Nay to an inch. Lo, where condemned he
Bears his own cross, with pain, yet by and by
When it bears him, he must bear more and die;
Now thou art lifted up, draw me to thee,
And at thy death giving such liberal dole,
Moist, with one drop of thy blood, my dry soul.
Moist with one drop of thy blood, my dry soul,
Shall (though she now be in extreme degree
Too stony hard, and yet too fleshly,) be
Freed by that drop, from being starved, had, or foul
And life, by this death abled, shall control
Death, whom thy death slew; nor shall to me
Fear of first or last death, bring misery,
If in thy little book my name thou enroll,
Flesh in that long sleep is not putrified,
But made that there, of which, and for which ’twas;
Nor can by other means be glorified.
May then sinners sleep, and deaths soon from me pass,
That waked from both, I again risen may
Salute the last, and everlasting day.
Salute the last and everlasting day,
Joy at the uprising of this Sun, and Son,
Ye who just tears, or tribulation
Have purely washed, or burned your drossie clay;
Behold the Highest, parting hence away,
Lighten the dark clouds, which he treads upon,
Nor does he by ascending, show alone,
But first he, and he first enders the Way.
O Strong Ram, whic hast battered heaven for me,
Mild lamb, which with thy blood, has marked the path;
Bright torch, which shinest, that I the way may see,
Oh, with thy own blood quench thy own just wrath,
And if thy Holy Spirit, my Muse did raise,
Deign at my hands this crown of prayer and praise.
An unedited version of La Corona can be found here.