John Donne: Expostulation


John Donne

DAVID professes himself dead dog to his king Saul, [1 Sam. 24:15] and so doth Mephibosheth to his king David, [2 Sam. 9:8] and yet David speaks to Saul, and Mephibosheth to David. No man is so little, in respect of the greatest man, as the greatest in respect of God; for here, in that, we have not so much as a measure to try it by; proportion is no measure for infinity. He that hath no more of this world but a grave; he that hath his grave but lent him till a better man or another man must be buried in the same grave; he that hath no grave but a dunghill, he that hath no more earth but that which he carries, but that which he is, he that hath not that earth which he is, but even in that is another's slave, hath as much proportion to God, as if all David's worthies, and all the world's monarchs, and all imagination's giants, were kneaded and incorporated into one, and as though that one were the survivor of all the sons of men, to whom God had given the world.

And therefore how little soever I be, as “God calls things that are not, as though they were,” I, who am as though I were not, may call upon God, and say, My God, my God, why comes thine anger so fast upon me? Why dost thou melt me, scatter me, pour me like water upon the ground so instantly? Thou stayedst for the first world, in Noah's time, one hundred and twenty years; thou stayedst for a rebellious generation in the wilderness forty years, wilt thou stay no minute for me? Wilt thou make thy process and thy decree, thy citation and thy judgment, but one act? Thy summons, thy battle, thy victory, thy triumph, all but one act; and lead me captive, nay, deliver me captive to death, as soon as thou declarest me to be enemy, and so cut me off even with the drawing of thy sword out of the scabbard, and for that question, How long was he sick? leave no other answer, but that the hand of death pressed upon him from the first minute?

My God, my God, thou wast not wont to come in whirlwinds, but in soft and gentle air. Thy first breath breathed a soul into me, and shall thy breath blow it out? Thy breath in the congregation, thy word in the church, breathes communion and consolation here, and consummation hereafter; shall thy breath in this chamber breathe dissolution and destruction, divorce and separation?

Surely it is not thou, it is not thy hand. The devouring sword, the consuming fire, the winds from the wilderness, the diseases of the body, all that afflicted Job, were from the hands of Satan; it is not thou. It is thou, thou my God, who hast led me so continually with thy hand, from the hand of my nurse, as that I know thou wilt not correct me, but with thine own hand. My parents would not give me over to a servant's correction, nor my God to Satan's.

I am “fallen into the hands of God” with David, and with David I see that his mercies are great. [2 Sam. 24:14] For by that mercy, I consider in my present state, not the haste and the despatch of the disease, in dissolving this body, so much as the much more haste and despatch, which my God shall use, in re-collecting and re-uniting this dust again at the resurrection. Then I shall hear his angels proclaim the “Surgite mortui,” Rise, ye dead. Though I be dead, I shall hear the voice; the sounding of the voice and the working of the voice shall be all one; and all shall rise there in a less minute than any one dies here.