John Donne: Expostulation


John Donne

MY God and my Jesus, my Lord and my Christ, my strength and my salvation, I hear thee, and I hearken to thee, when thou rebukest thy disciples, for rebuking them who brought children to thee; “Suffer little children to come to me,” sayest thou. [Matt. 19:13] Is there a verier child than I am now?

I cannot say, with thy servant Jeremy, “Lord, I am a child, and cannot speak”; but, O Lord, I am a sucking child, and cannot eat; a creeping child, and cannot go; how shall I come to thee? Whither shall I come to thee? To this bed? I have this weak and childish forwardness too, I cannot sit up, and yet am loth to go to bed.

Shall I find thee in bed? Oh, have I always done so? The bed is not ordinarily thy scene, thy climate: Lord, dost thou not accuse me, dost thou not reproach to me my former sins, when thou layest me upon this bed? Is not this to hang a man at his own door, to lay him sick in his own bed of wantonness? When thou chidest us by thy prophet for lying in “beds of ivory” [Amos 6:4], is not thine anger vented; not till thou changest our beds of ivory into beds of ebony?

David swears unto thee, “that he will not go up into his bed, till he had built thee a house.” [Ps. 132:3] To go up into the bed denotes strength, and promises ease; but when thou sayest, “that thou wilt cast Jezebel into a bed,” thou makest thine own comment upon that; thou callest the bed tribulation, great tribulation. [Rev. 2:22]

How shall they come to thee whom thou hast nailed to their bed? Thou art in the congregation, and I in a solitude: when the centurion's servant lay sick at home, [Matt. 8:6] his master was fain to come to Christ; the sick man could not. Their friend lay sick of the palsy, and the four charitable men were fain to bring him to Christ; he could not come. [Matt. 8:4] Peter's wife's mother lay sick of a fever, and Christ came to her; she could not come to him. [Matt. 8:14] My friends may carry me home to thee, in their prayers in the congregation; thou must come home to me in the visitation of thy Spirit, and in the seal of thy sacrament.

But when I am cast into this bed my slack sinews are iron fetters, and those thin sheets iron doors upon me; and, “Lord, I have loved the habitation of thine house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth.” [Ps. 26:8] I lie here and say, “Blessed are they that dwell in thy house”; [Ps. 84:4] but I cannot say, “I will come into thy house”; I may say, “In thy fear will I worship towards thy holy temple”; [Ps. v:7] but I cannot say in thy holy temple. And, “Lord, the zeal of thy house eats me up,” [Ps. 69:9] as fast as my fever; it is not a recusancy, for I would come, but it is an excommunication, I must not.

But, Lord, thou art Lord of hosts, and lovest action; why callest thou me from my calling? “In the grave no man shall praise thee”; in the door of the grave, this sick bed, no man shall hear me praise thee. Thou hast not opened my lips that my mouth might show thee thy praise, but that my mouth might show forth thy praise. But thine apostle's fear takes hold of me, “that when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway”; [1 Cor. 9:27] and therefore am I cast down, that I might not be cast away.

Thou couldst take me by the head, as thou didst Habbakuk, and carry me so; by a chariot, as thou didst Elijah, [2 Kings 2:11] and carry me so; but thou carriest me thine own private way, the way by which thou carriedst thy Son, who first lay upon the earth and prayed, and then had his exaltation, as himself calls his crucifying; and first descended into hell, and then had his ascension. There is another station (indeed neither are stations but prostrations) lower than this bed; to-morrow I may be laid one story lower, upon the floor, the face of the earth; and next day another story, in the grave, the womb of the earth. As yet God suspends me between heaven and earth, as a meteor; and I am not in heaven because an earthly body clogs me, and I am not in the earth because a heavenly soul sustains me.

And it is thine own law, O God, that “if a man be smitten so by another, as that he keep his bed, though he die not, he that hurt him must take care of his healing, and recompense him” [Ex. 21:18]. Thy hand strikes me into this bed; and therefore, if I rise again, thou wilt be my recompense all the days of my life, in making the memory of this sickness beneficial to me; and if my body fall yet lower, thou wilt take my soul out of this bath, and present it to thy Father, washed again, and again, and again, in thine own tears, in thine own sweat, in thine own blood.