And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

fredag 25. mars 2016

Upon the Annunciation and Passion falling on one day, by John Donne

March 25 is a day of great importance in the Christian calendar since it is celebrated as the feast of the Annunciation, when Gabriel the Archangel visited Mary and announced that she would carry the son of God. It is commonly held that Christ was immaculately conceived in this episode from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, which is daily rehearsed in the liturgical office as the Magnificat. The Annunciation has been a feast of high status throughout Christian history, and even after the Reformation it was celebrated in Protestant countries. In Norway, for instance, the feast is known as "Maria bodskapsdag" (in Nynorsk) or "Bebudelsen" (in Bokmål), meaning the day of Mary's message.

This year, however, March 25 has a double importance as it is also Good Friday, the day of Christ's crucifixion, one of the two most important events in the Christian salvation story. That these two celebrations are conjoined in one and the same day is of great mystical importance to a Christian, as it is possible to commemorate both the conception and the death of Christ, both the beginning and the end of his life as a man on earth (save a short while after the Resurrection).

This combination of feasts is a rare occurrence, and I was first notified of it via a recent blogpost on the excellent blog Clerk of Oxford. For the details I will therefore refer you to the Clerk's exposition. In the Clerk's blogpost, however, I was made aware of a poem by John Donne which he wrote when the same confluence occurred in 1608. Being immensely fond of John Donne's poetry, I've read the verse twice today, and I'm presenting it to you here so that you can share the brilliance that is Donne.

Upon the Annunciation and Passion falling on one day


Tamely frail body' abstain today; today
My soul eats twice, Christ hither and away.
She sees him man, so like God made in this,
That of them both a circle emblem is,
Whose first and last concur; this doubtful day
Of feast or fast, Christ came, and went away;
She sees him nothing twice at once, who is all;
She sees a cedar plant itself, and fall,
Her maker put to making, and the head
Of life, at once, not yet alive, and dead;
She sees at once the virgin mother stay
Reclused at home, public at Golgotha.
Sad and rejoiced she's seen at once, and seen
At almost fifty, and at scarce fifteen.
At once a son is promised her, and gone,
Gabriel gives Christ to her, he her to John;
Not fully a mother, she's in orbity,
At once receiver and the legacy;
All this, and all between, this day hath shown,
Th'abridgement of Christ's story, which makes one
(As in plain maps, the furthest west is east)
Of the angel's Ave, 'and Consummatum est.
How well the Church, God's court of faculties
Deals, in sometimes, and seldom joining these;
As by the self-fixed pole we never do
Direct our course, but the next star thereto,
Which shows where the 'other is, and which we say
(Because it strays not far) doth never stray;
So God by his Church, nearest to him, we know
And stand firm, if we by her motion go;
His Spirit, as his fiery pillar doth
Lead, and his Church, as cloud; to one end both:
This Church, by letting these days join, hath shown
Death and conception in mankind is one:
Or 'twas in him the same humility,
That he would be a man, and leave to be:
Or as creation he had made, as God,
With the last judgement, but one period,
His imitating spouse would join in one
Manhood's extremes: he shall come, he is gone:
Or as though one blood drop, which thence did fall,
Accepted, would have served, he yet shed all;
So though the least of his pains, deeds, or words,
Would busy a life, she all this day affords;
This treasure then, in gross, my soul uplay,
And in my life retail it every day.

Here taken from Carey, John (ed.), John Donne - the Major Works, Oxford World's Classics, 1990: 155-56.

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