Study Guide

Come Sweet Death

by Bunyan Davie Napier

Come Sweet Death Summary

Overview (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Bunyan Davie Napier, a minister, theologian, and seminary professor, published Old Testament theological research between 1955 and1964 and the later Rockwell Lecture, On New Creation (1971). Napier’s first single-volume poem, Come Sweet Death, appeared in 1967, followed by two additional poems, Time of Burning (1970) and Word of God, Word of Earth (1976). These three poems compose The Best of Davie Napier.

Napier values myths, especially theologically refined mythical stories found in Genesis, for what he terms their “isness” more than their “wasness.” Genesis was orally transmitted from the tenth century b.c.e. before it was recorded in the sixth century b.c.e., so it is both informed by and informing to the rest of the Old Testament. As such, Napier calls Genesis “a meditation on history” that reveals how Creation shaped the faith and life of first the Jews and then the nations. Like Genesis, Come Sweet Death may be viewed as an act of “prophetism,” which Napier defines in Prophets in Perspective (1963) as “a way of looking at, understanding, and interpreting history.”

Napier introduces Come Sweet Death as a colloquial retelling or “existential interpretation” of Genesis 2-12 in the present tense. He excerpts from Genesis 2-12, with additional verses from Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, the Psalms, and Luke. The poem closes with John 1:1, returning to the creative word in the beginning. With its present-day “isness,” the quintet is suprahistorical, moving from Gilead to Geneva or from Noah to Unamuno in the same line. The omnipresent point of view is purposely disconcerting but nevertheless representative of the timeless audience for whom the Bible was intended.

Apart from the dated technology—Napier cites computers and rockets as the latest innovations—the 1967 poem still feels current with its Joycean compendium of both popular and literary allusions and its cynical, Nietzschean tone. Like the Lost...

(The entire section is 855 words.)

Come Sweet Death Bibliography (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

“Napier, B(unyan) Davie.” Contemporary Authors: New Revision Series. Vol. 4. Detroit: Gale Research Group, 1981. A short biography of the author, listing his published works. Bibliography.

Napier, Bunyan Davie. From Faith to Faith: Essays on Old Testament Literature. New York: Harper, 1955. Five essays demonstrate the essential unity of the Old Testament; the first treats brokenness in Genesis 1-11, and the second considers Abraham’s faith as counterpart.

Napier, Bunyan Davie. “On Creation—Faith in the Old Testament: A Survey.” Interpretation 16, no. 1 (January, 1962): 21-42. God shaped preexistent chaos into Creation and formed slaves into his elect people, which, Napier argues, shows that Creation substantiates God’s saving power.

Napier, Bunyan Davie. Prophets in Perspective. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1963. Napier draws on Gerhard von Rad’s research in his 120-page study that examines the prophetic giants who proclaimed God’s plan to judge and then redeem Israel and the world.

Napier, Bunyan Davie. Song of the Vineyard: A Guide Through the Old Testament. Rev. ed. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981. An inductive introduction to the Bible’s literary, historical, and theological meaning in the life and faith of ancient Israel and the present state. Brief bibliography, detailed indexes.