John Donne: Expostulation XI. Nobilibusque trahunt

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff


John Donne

MY God, my God, all that thou askest of me is my heart, “My Son, give me thy heart.” [Prov. 23:26] Am I thy Son as long as I have but my heart? Wilt thou give me an inheritance, a filiation, any thing for my heart?

O thou, who saidst to Satan, “Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him upon the earth,” [Job 1:8] shall my fear, shall my zeal, shall my jealousy, have leave to say to thee, Hast thou considered my heart, that there is not so perverse a heart upon earth; and wouldst thou have that, and shall I be thy son, thy eternal Son's coheir, for giving that?

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” [Jer. 17:9] He that asks that question makes the answer, I the Lord search the heart. When didst thou search mine? Dost thou think to find it, as thou madest it, in Adam?

Thou hast searched since, and found all these gradations in the ill of our hearts, “that every imagination of the thoughts of our hearts is only evil continually.” [Gen. 6:5] Dost thou remember this, and wouldst thou have my heart? O God of all light, I know thou knowest all, and it is thou [Amos 4:13] that declarest unto man what is his heart. Without thee, O sovereign Goodness, I could not know how ill my heart were.

Thou hast declared unto me, in thy word, that for all this deluge of evil that hath surrounded all hearts, yet thou soughtest and foundest a man after thine own heart; [1 Sam. 13:14] that thou couldst and wouldst give thy people pastors according to thine own heart; [Jer. 3:15] and I can gather out of thy word so good testimony of the hearts of men as to find single hearts, docile and apprehensive hearts; hearts that can, hearts that have learned; wise hearts in one place, and in another in a great degree wise, perfect hearts; straight hearts, no perverseness without; and clean hearts, no foulness within: such hearts I can find in thy word; and if my heart were such a heart, I would give thee my heart.

But I find stony hearts too, [Ezek. 11:19] and I have made mine such: I have found hearts that are snares; [Eccles. 7:26] and I have conversed with such; hearts that burn like ovens; [Hos. 7:6] and the fuel of lust, and envy, and ambition, hath inflamed mine; hearts in which their masters trust, and “he that trusteth in his own heart is a fool”; [Prov. 28:26] his confidence in his own moral constancy and civil fortitude will betray him, when thou shalt cast a spiritual damp, a heaviness and dejection of spirit upon him. I have found these hearts, and a worse than these, a heart into the which the devil himself is entered, Judas's heart. [John 13:2]

The first kind of heart, alas, my God, I have not; the last are not hearts to be given to thee. What shall I do? Without that present I cannot be thy son, and I have it not. To those of the first kind thou givest joyfulness of heart, [Ecclus. 50:23] and I have not that; to those of the other kind thou givest faintness of heart; [Lev. 26:36] and blessed be thou, O God, for that forbearance, I have not that yet.

There is then a middle kind of hearts, not so perfect as to be given but that the very giving mends them; not so desperate as not to be accepted but that the very accepting dignifies them. This is a melting heart, [Josh. 2:11] and a troubled heart, and a wounded heart, and a broken heart, and a contrite heart; and by the powerful working of thy piercing Spirit such a heart I have. Thy Samuel spoke unto all the house of thy Israel, and said, “If you return to the Lord with all your hearts, prepare your hearts unto the Lord.” [1 Sam. 7:3] If my heart be prepared, it is a returning heart. And if thou see it upon the way, thou wilt carry it home. Nay, the preparation is thine too; this melting, this wounding, this breaking, this contrition, which I have now, is thy way to thy end; and those discomforts are, for all that, “the earnest of thy Spirit in my heart”; [2 Cor. 1:22] and where thou givest earnest, thou wilt perform the bargain.

Nabal was confident upon his wine, but “in the morning his heart died within him.” [1 Sam. 25:37] Thou, O Lord, hast given me wormwood, and I have had some diffidence upon that; and thou hast cleared a morning to me again, and my heart is alive. David's heart smote him when he cut off the skirt from Saul; [1 Sam. 24:5] and his heart smote him when he had numbered his people: [2 Sam. 24:10] my heart hath struck me when I come to number my sins; but that blow is not to death, because those sins are not to death, but my heart lives in thee. But yet as long as I remain in this great hospital, this sick, this diseaseful world, as long as I remain in this leprous house, this flesh of mine, this heart, though thus prepared for thee, prepared by thee, will still be subject to the invasion of malign and pestilent vapours. But I have my cordials in thy promise; “when I shall know the plague of my heart, and pray unto thee in thy house,” [1 Kings 8:38] thou wilt preserve that heart from all mortal force of that infection; “and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep my heart and mind through Christ Jesus.” [Phil. 4:7]

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