Saturday, August 07, 2010

Donne on Sickness

Here's a find: from my copy of the Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne, copyright for Modern Library in 1952, annotated by me in perhaps 1957.   I find three check marks beside this passage:
Inlarge this Meditation upon this great world, Man, so farr, as to consider the immensitie of the creatures this world produces; our creatures are our thoughts, creatures that are borne Gyants; that reach from East to West, from Earth to Heaven, that doe not onely bestride all the Sea, and Land, but span the Sunnand Firmament at once; My thoughts reach all, comprehend all. Inexplicable mistery; I their Creator am in a close prison, in a sicke bed, any where, and any one of my Creatures, my thoughts, is with the Sunne, and beyond the Sunne, overtakes the Sunne, and overgoes the Sunne in one pace, one steppe, everywhere. And then as the other world produces Serpents, and Vipers, malignant, and venimous creatures, and Wormes, and Caterpillars, that endeavour to devoure that world which produces them, and Monsters compiled and complicated of divers parents, and kinds, so this world, our selves, produces all these in us, in producing diseases, and sicknesses, of all those sort; venimous, and infectious diseases, feeding and consuming diseases, and manifold and entangled diseases, made up of many several ones. And can the other world name so many venimous, so many consuming, so many monstrous creatures, as we can diseases, of all these kindes? O miserable abundance, O beggarly riches! how much doe wee lacke of having remedies for everie disease, when as yet we have not names for them?
That would be from Mediyation IV of the "Devotions upon Emergent Occasions [1624]," 414-58 of the ML,  at 419.  Also in uncertain pencil strokes I underlined, from Meditation III at 418:
When God came to breath into Man the breath of life, he found him flat upon the ground; when he comes to withdraw that breath from him againe, hee prepares him to it, by laying him flat upon his bed. Scarse any prison so close, that affords not the prisoner two, or three steps. The Anchorites that barqu'd themselves up in hollowe trees, and immur'd themselves in hollow walls; that perverse man, that barrell'd himselfe in a Tubb, all could stand, or sit, and enjoy some change of posture. A sicke bed, is a grave; and all that the patient saies there, is but a varying of his owne Epitaph.
Wonderful stuff, but I wonder what possessed me to be so impressed with it at the time.   I was young and immortal (Health insurance? What for?) and I really did not spend much time meditating upon my mortality.  Just impressed by the raw power of the language, I assume.

Note that this is also the work that contains  (in Meditation XVII) "No man is an ..."  Oddly enough, I passed over that one without a pencilled intervention.  Just as well: it's been done to death.

1 comment:

marco said...