Well, it’s a bit late in the day to be making this second Sunday of Lent post. But I thought I’d do it anyway. You’ll remember that last week, for the first Sunday of Lent, I noted that Sundays do not figure in the enumeration of the forty days of Lent, because Sundays are always celebrations of Christ’s resurrection. Last week I posted one of my favorite poems of the resurrection, John Updike’s Seven Stanzas at Easter. This week I post another one of my favorite resurrection poems, John Donne’s Resurrection, Imperfect.
Sleep, sleep, old sun, thou canst not have repass’d,
As yet, the wound thou took’st on Friday last;
Sleep then, and rest; the world may bear thy stay;
A better sun rose before thee to-day;
Who—not content to enlighten all that dwell
On the earth’s face, as thou—enlighten’d hell,
And made the dark fires languish in that vale,
As at thy presence here our fires grow pale;
Whose body, having walk’d on earth, and now
Hasting to heaven, would—that He might allow
Himself unto all stations, and fill all—
For these three days become a mineral.
He was all gold when He lay down, but rose
All tincture, and doth not alone dispose
Leaden and iron wills to good, but is
Of power to make e’en sinful flesh like his.
Had one of those, whose credulous piety
Thought that a soul one might discern and see
Go from a body, at this sepulchre been,
And, issuing from the sheet, this body seen,
He would have justly thought this body a soul,
If not of any man, yet of the whole.
It isn’t the easiest poem to read, but if you keep at it hard enough and long enough, it repays the effort. Donne was a master at clever expression in his poetry. Let me give you just a few clues to encourage you to give it more than just a casual perusal. The poem speaks of :
the eclipse of the sun on Good Friday
Christ’s resurrection a better rising than that of the sun
the “harrowing of hell”
Christ, who is “all gold” being entombed
Christ who is “tincture” turning our leaden and iron wills to gold
Christ making our sinful flesh to be like his glorious resurrection flesh
There are several theories as to what the term, “imperfect,” means in the title. The Latin phrase at the end of the poem, Desunt caetera, means “the rest is lacking,” It may be nothing more than an editor’s note that Donne never finished the poem, or couldn’t find a way to end it. Another intriguing possibility, however, is that “imperfect” is a double entendre from Donne himself, meaning as well that the resurrection is not yet finished. And this would accord very well with the New Testament teaching that Christ, in his resurrection, is the “firstfruits,” the guarantee of a much larger resurrection harvest yet to come.
Perhaps it is our resurrection that will write the last line of the poem.
Second Sunday of Lent
March 16, 2014
Do you know Donne’s three (or four) verse poem, each verse ending “I am not done”? Maybe “Desunt Caetera” is another pun.
Yes, “Thou hast not done, for I have more.” And yes, I think Desunt Caetera is a pun.