Thursday, March 19, 2009

having done that, Thou hast done

Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
     Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin through which I run,
     And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;
          For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
     Others to sin, and made my sins their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
     A year or two, but wallow'd in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;
          For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I've spun
     My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by Thyself that at my death Thy Son
     Shall shine as He shines now and heretofore:
And having done that, Thou hast done;
          I fear no more.
This is "A Hymn to God the Father" by John Donne, which Lawrence copied from the Oxford Book of English Verse into Minorities, his pocket book of blank pages.

With this poem, Lawrence begins to depart from his original goal of including only works by minor poets, but the inconsistency was surely of no account to him. He had little respect of consistency for its own sake and so, for example, he would torture the editors of Seven Pillars of Wisdom by varying his English renderings of Arabic names and places. Moreover his main goal was to have with him, during his travels, those poems which were most important to him in one easily portable book.

That said, the poem certainly has the musical quality that Lawrence sought and it has in fact been set to music. Its tone also meets his wish to focus on works in a minor, that is to say, pessimistic or death-concerned, key.

It bears one pun on the poet's name: "Donne" can be read for "done". Thus "Thou hast done" = "Thou has Donne". It also puns on the name of his young wife: "For I have more" = "For I have (Anne) More". These word plays, his reference to himself as a spider, and the playful admonition, "Thou hast not done" all mitigate the sin-drenched, petitionary, and self-flagellating aspects of the poem. Donne's standing tall while acknowledging his faults, forthrightly facing his own death, and yet doubting that Heaven awaits him would have appealed to Lawrence. And there is something outrageously self-confident in his final assertion that at his death "Thy Son / Shall shine as He shines now and heretofore."

Some sources:

Minorities, by T E Lawrence; ed. by Jeremy Wilson (London, Cape, 1971).

The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900, ed. by Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch (1908)

A Hymn to God the Father, music for tenor and piano (1987)

HIDDEN SOURCES: Western Esoteric Influence on the Arts

A Hymn to God the Father

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