Hymn to God my God in my sickness: John Donne’s poems were published only after his death, so it is not sure when he wrote his poems; however there is some kind of dating given. It is believed that he started writing very early and most of his earlier poems were love poems and some of them were even erotic. He married Anne More and had 12 children. He could not make money doing any jobs in spite of the fact that he was educated. His wife Anne died when she was 33 during the childbirth of their 13th child. This child also died.
Donne was shattered and to look after his children he tried various jobs but could not stay in them. Finally he sought a vocation as an Anglican divine. His sermons became popular and he became the favourite of King James I and Charles I. in 1623 he fell seriously ill but recouped soon after. Between 1630 and 1631 he was bedridden with a disease which brought about his death. There are many poems addressed to god and it is not sure whether he wrote it during his first bout of illness or when he was in his death bed. ‘Hymn to God, my God, in my sickness’ is one such poem but most accept that it might be written when he fell ill the second time.
In this poem he tells god that he is coming to the ‘holy room’, heaven, where all the saints are present and once he reaches there he will be made an instrument in the hands of god and will be made into god’s music. That is his final destination. But for now his physicians out of love for him, keep looking and examining him. He compares them to ‘cosmographers’ who look over his body like a map. In the map he believes he is taking a south-west journey through the straits of fever – ‘Per fretum febris’. He sees happiness in these straits as they head west. West indicates death and there is no return from that. He, however, is not unhappy because death (west) is going to meet resurrection (east). Without death there cannot be resurrection.
It is believed that all rivers and straits merge into the sea or ocean. He says all the straits like Anyan, Magellan and Gibraltar merge into the Pacific Ocean. He asks if Pacific Ocean is his final destination or is it the holy Jerusalem or the places where the sons of Noah, Japhet, Cham and Shem dwelt. He says that it is thought that Paradise, Calvary where Christ’s cross stood and where Adam’s tree stood were the same place. In the same manner in him stands the first Adam and the last Adam, Christ. The first Adam is seen as his sweat around his face and Christ he has embraced in his blood. In the last stanza he asks the Lord to receive him with the purple shroud he is wrapped in. He wants the Lord to give him the other crown because he deserved it. He had preached for a long while to others and now he was giving a sermon to himself. After doing god’s work for some time now, he is suffering and about to die, therefore he should be raised by god; this is a demand he is placing to God.
This poem has six five-line stanzas which has an ABABB rhyme scheme and has iambic pentameter all through the poem. There are a few metaphors in the poem. Heaven is compared to a ‘holy room’, the physicians who were attending to him is compared to ‘cosmographers’ and his body is compared to a map. His soul merging with the Lord is compared to straits joining the ocean. West indicates death because that is where the sun is believed to set. East is likened to resurrection as the sun rises in the east. So when he talks about
“As west and east
In all flat maps (and I am one) are one”
he means death and resurrection.
This poem is one of the simple metaphysical poems of John Donne. Like in most of his poems he starts as if he had left off somewhere. Only that in this poem there are no strong or forceful words used right at the beginning. In fact all through the poem his words are mild and pleads to god to take him to heaven.