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John Donne's Devotions
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III. MEDITATION.

WE attribute but one privilege and advantage to man’s body above other moving creatures, that he is not, as others, grovelling, but of an erect, of an upright, form naturally built and disposed to the contemplation of heaven. Indeed it is a thankful form, and recompenses that soul, which gives it, with carrying that soul so many feet higher towards heaven. Other creatures look to the earth; and even that is no unfit object, no unfit contemplation for man, for thither he must come; but because man is not to stay there, as other creatures are, man in his natural form is carried to the contemplation of that place which is his home, heaven. This is man’s prerogative; but what state hath he in this dignity? A fever can fillip him down, a fever can depose him; a fever can bring that head, which yesterday carried a crown of gold five feet towards a crown of glory, as low as his own foot to-day. When God came to breathe into man the breath of life, he found him flat upon the ground; when he comes to withdraw that breath from him again, he prepares him to it by laying him flat upon his bed. Scarce any prison so close that affords not the prisoner two or three steps. The anchorites that barked themselves up in hollow trees and immured themselves in hollow walls, that perverse man that barrelled himself in a tub, all could stand or sit, and enjoy some change of posture. A sick bed is a grave, and all that the patient says there is but a varying of his own epitaph. Every night’s bed is a type of the grave; at night we tell our servants at what hour we will rise, here we cannot tell ourselves at what day, what week, what month. Here the head lies as low as the foot; the head of the people as low as they whom those feet trod upon; and that hand that signed pardons is too weak to beg his own, if he might have it for lifting up that hand. Strange fetters to the feet, strange manacles to the hands, when the feet and hands are bound so much the faster, by how much the cords are slacker; so much the less able to do their offices, by how much more the sinews and ligaments are the looser. In the grave I may speak through the stones, in the voice of my friends, and in the accents of those words which their love may afford my memory; here I am mine own ghost, and rather affright my beholders than instruct them; they conceive the worst of me now, and yet fear worse; they give me for dead now, and yet wonder how I do when they wake at midnight, and ask how I do to-morrow. Miserable, and (though common to all) inhuman posture, where I must practise my lying in the grave by lying still, and not practise my resurrection by rising any more.

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