- Critical Apparatus1 Moyst with one drop of thy blood, my dry soule
- Critical Apparatus2Shall (though she now be in extreme degree
- 3Too stony hard, and yet too fleshly,) bee
- Editor’s Note4Freed by that drop, from being starv'd, hard, or foule,
- Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus5And life, by this death abled, shall controule
- Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus6Death, whom thy death slue; nor shall to mee
- Editor’s Note7Feare of first or last death, bring miserie,
- Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus8If in thy little booke my name thou'enroule,
- Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus9Flesh in that long sleep is not putrified,
- 10But made that there, of which, and for which 'twas;
- Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus11Nor can by other meanes be glorified.
- Editor’s NoteCritical Apparatus12May then sinnes sleep, and deaths soone from me passe,
- 13That wak't from both, I againe risen may
- Editor’s Note14Salute the last, and everlasting day.
1 soule] soule, 1633
2 now be] bee now TCD, Dob, O'F
5 this] thy Dob, O'F, W
l. 5. abled: endowed with power.
6 shall] shall nowe TCD, O'F
l. 6. Death, whom thy death slue; nor shall to mee. This line is a syllable short. Group II, hut, O'F read 'nor shall nowe to me'. There are two similar lines in 'Holy Sonnets' (1633), 12:
- He keepes, and gives mee his deaths conquest
- None doth, but all-healing grace and Spirit.
In the first of these 1633, supported by Lut, O'F only, reads 'gives to me'; in the second 1633, supported by Group III only, reads 'but thy all-healing'. The three lines need to be considered together. I believe that we must ascribe their irregularity to the poet's intention; and that the agreement of Group II with Lut, O'F here, and of 1633 with Lut, O'F, and with Group III, on the other two occasions is due to independent patching of an unmetrical line. In each case Group I and W agree in a defective line; in each case it is the third foot which is defective; and in each case there is a marked pause within the line, which gives rhythmic compensation for metrical deficiency:
There are some examples of similar lines in other poems:
('Satire III', l. 33)
('Progress of the Soul', l. 516).
The line recalls the Vulgate version of Hosea xiii. 14: 'Ero mors tua, o mors' and the Easter Preface in the Book of Common Prayer: 'Who by his death hath destroyed death.'
l. 7. last death. Cf. Rev. ii. II: 'He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.' This is glossed 'quae est gehenna'.
8 little booke] litle Bookes TCD: life-booke Dob, O'F, W: see note
'enroule] enroule 1633
l. 8. If in thy little booke my name thou'enroule. Group III and W read 'life-booke', which gives a defective line of the type discussed above:
It is difficult to see why Donne should have used the form 'life-booke', when 'Book of Life' was established by translators from Wyclif onwards.
It is even more difficult to suggest why he speaks of a 'little booke'. The 'little book' of Rev. x. 1–2 is interpreted as the Scriptures, which Christ, the Angel, opens to men's understandings and which the seer eats. It is plainly not the 'Book of Life' in which names are 'enrolled'. Grierson suggests that Donne had in mind the text 'Strait is the gate and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it' (Matt. vii. 14); adding 'The grimmer aspects of the Christian creed were always in Donne's mind'. He quotes in support of this statement four lines from the Elegy on Mrs. Bulstrode. In Funeral Poems, as in Verse-Letters, Donne often takes up extravagant positions; but in his sermons he is very far from suggesting that only a few will be saved; see Sermons, vi. 76, viii. 370, and iv. 74. In this last, he declares that Christ used 'Metaphors of narrow wayes, and strait gates, not to make any man suspect an impossibility of entring, but to be the more industrious … in seeking it'. Even if he had held a grimmer view earlier in his life, it is most unlikely that he would have implied it in this joyful sonnet, where he has in mind the Book of Revelation, which insists on the multitude of the redeemed.
If 'little' is the right final reading, I can only suggest it is used vaguely with some such colour as 'thy own' or 'thy dear' book. But the spelling in Group II, 'litle', suggests the possibility that 'little' may be a misreading of 'title'. 'Title-book', a compound formed on the analogy of 'title-deed', would be the book containing our title, or claim to heaven, with a pun on the other sense of the word, 'name'. I do not feel sufficient confidence in this conjecture to emend a reading in which Groups I and II support 1633, and put it forward only as a possible explanation of a difficulty I cannot otherwise explain.
9 that long sleep] yt sleepe C 57: that steep'd H 49: that last longe sleepe Dob, O'F, W
l. 9. Flesh in that long sleep is not putrified. 'That long sleep' (1633) has the support of Group II. Group III and W read 'that last longe sleepe', which, with the obvious contraction 'sleep's', was probably the original version of the line. Group I reads 'that sleep' ('that steep'd', H 49), which may have arisen from the archetype of the group mistaking a deletion of 'last' for a deletion of 'last long'.
Donne means that putrefaction is not the ultimate state of the body. It is made that 'of which it was' by returning to dust; but it is also made 'that for which it was', since 'Adam was made to enjoy an immortality in his body; He induced death upon himselfe: And then … man having induced and created death, by sin, God takes death, and makes it a means of the glorifying of his body, in heaven' (Sermons, vi. 72).
ll. 9–14. In the last six lines there are three differences of reading which need to be considered together.
11 glorified] puryfy'd Dob, O'F (b.c), W
l.11. glorified. 'Puryfy'd' (Group III, W) rather unpleasingly echoes the earlier 'putrified'; 'glorified' both avoids this assonance and is itself a much stronger word.
l. 11. thy all-healing grace Group III, 1633
12 deathsTCD, W: death 1633, C 57, H 49, Dob, O'F
1633 has here no manuscript support, although there is a possibility that it has taken 'thy' (Group III) as 'thys'.
These three differences of reading would seem to have arisen from the poet's deliberate correction. We can suggest reasons why Donne should have been dissatisfied with the Group III version. First, the word 'thy' occurs far too often in the sestet. Secondly, in the octave the Father is carefully distinguished from the Son, 'thy' being used for the Father and 'his' for the Son. Since in l. 8 Donne speaks of 'his and thy kingdome', it is awkward in the very next line to use 'thy' for the laws which the Son, the maker of both Testaments, has laid down. The omission of 'thy' in l. 11, though it gives a defective line, throws special emphasis on 'all-healing' and makes distinct the reference to the work of the Third Person of the Trinity. The reading 'that', in l. 14, specifying the Testament referred to—Christ's last speech before his death—is stronger than the repetition of 'thy', already used twice in the previous line. In each case, I have adopted the reading of Groups I and II, which in the two last cases is supported by W, as the reading most likely to be the poet's final one.