John Donne: Expostulation


John Donne

MY God, my God, I know (for thou hast said it) that “he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep”: [Ps. 121:4] but shall not that Israel, over whom thou watchest, sleep? I know (for thou hast said it) that there are men whose damnation sleepeth not; [2 Pet. 2:3] but shall not they to whom thou art salvation sleep? or wilt thou take from them that evidence, and that testimony that they are thy Israel, or thou their salvation?

Thou givest thy beloved sleep”: [Ps. 127:2] shall I lack that seal of thy love?

You shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid”: [Lev. 26:6] shall I be outlawed from that protection?

Jonah slept in one dangerous storm, [Jonah 1:5] and thy blessed Son in another; [Matt. 8:24] shall I have no use, no benefit, no application of those great examples?

Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well,” [John 11:12] say thy Son's disciples to him of Lazarus; and shall there be no room for that argument in me? or shall I be open to the contrary? If I sleep not, shall I not be well in their sense?

Let me not, O my God, take this too precisely, too literally; “There is that neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes,” [Eccles. 8:16] says thy wise servant Solomon; and whether he speak that of worldly men, or of men that seek wisdom, whether in justification or condemnation of their watchfulness, we cannot tell: we can tell that there are men that cannot sleep till they have done mischief, [Prov. 4:16] and then they can; and we can tell that the rich man cannot sleep, because his abundance will not let him. [Eccles. 5:12]

The tares were sown when the husbandmen were asleep [Matt. 13:25; 28:13]; and the elders thought it a probable excuse, a credible lie, that the watchmen which kept the sepulchre should say, that the body of thy Son was stolen away when they were asleep. [Matt. 26:40]

Since thy blessed Son rebuked his disciples for sleeping, shall I murmur because I do not sleep?

If Samson had slept any longer in Gaza, he had been taken; [Judges 16:3] and when he did sleep longer with Delilah, [Judges 16:19] he was taken.

Sleep is as often taken for natural death in thy Scriptures, as for natural rest. Nay, sometimes sleep hath so heavy a sense, as to be taken for sin itself, [Eph. 5:14] as well as for the punishment of sin, death. [1 Thess. 5:6]

Much comfort is not in much sleep, when the most fearful and most irrevocable malediction is presented by thee in a perpetual sleep. “I will make their feasts, and I will make them drunk, and they shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake.” [Jer. 51:57]

I must therefore, O my God, look farther than into the very act of sleeping before I misinterpret my waking; for since I find thy whole hand light, shall any finger of that hand seem heavy? Since the whole sickness is thy physic, shall any accident in it be my poison by my murmuring?

The name of watchmen belongs to our profession; thy prophets are not only seers, endued with a power of seeing, able to see, but watchmen evermore in the act of seeing. And therefore give me leave, O my blessed God, to invert the words of thy Son's spouse: she said, “I sleep, but my heart waketh”; [Cant. 5:2] I say, I wake, but my heart sleepeth: my body is in a sick weariness, but my soul in a peaceful rest with thee; and as our eyes in our health see not the air that is next them, nor the fire, nor the spheres, nor stop upon any thing till they come to stars, so my eyes that are open, see nothing of this world, but pass through all that, and fix themselves upon thy peace, and joy, and glory above.

Almost as soon as thy apostle had said, “Let us not sleep,” [1 Thess. 5:6] lest we should be too much discomforted if we did, he says again, “Whether we wake or sleep, let us live together with Christ.” [1 Thess. 5:10] Though then this absence of sleep may argue the presence of death (the original may exclude the copy, the life the picture), yet this gentle sleep and rest of my soul betroths me to thee, to whom I shall be married indissolubly, though by this way of dissolution.