Hymn to God My God, in My Sickness Summary

John Donne


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

“Hymn to God My God, in My Sickness” is perhaps the last poem that Donne ever wrote and thus serves as a good example of the poetic interests he maintained late in life after his wife’s death and his ordination. Most critics divide Donne’s career into at least two parts: an earlier, more productive period when he was known as a man-about-town and wrote primarily satires and witty treatments of love, and a later period after he accepted Holy Orders in the Anglican Church. Clearly, “Hymn to God My God, in My Sickness” belongs to the latter period. As one might expect, there are similarities and dissimilarities between it and the poems of the earlier period. “Hymn to God My God, in My Sickness” reveals Donne’s continuing wide intellectual interests and his ongoing talent for bringing these interests together in vivid, insightful metaphors; but it also shows a new, humbler concern for the welfare of his soul.

A cursory look at the poem reveals examples of Donne’s intellectual interests. He raises the issue of cartography, the making of maps, popular in the Renaissance when discoveries of new lands constantly made news. Donne reveals his own interest in and knowledge of geography, referring to Jerusalem, Gibraltar, the Pacific Ocean, and the Bering Strait, which had become a hoped-for passage to Eastern riches.

His use of the phrase “per fretum febris” (through the straits of fever) does not establish him as a Latin scholar, though he probably was, but it is his thorough acquaintance with religious topics that is striking. Thus, he writes about how in Christianity the East symbolizes birth and resurrection, how the West symbolizes death, and how just as on a map East and West merge, so birth fades into death and death into resurrection. He refers to Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the sons...

(The entire section is 749 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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