John Donne and the Baroque Doubt

Critic: Kathleen Raine
Source: "John Donne and the Baroque Doubt," in Horizon, London, Vol. XI, No. 66, June, 1945, pp. 371-95.
Criticism about: "Goodfriday, 1613. Riding Westward"; "The Relique"; Holy Sonnets; Ignatius his Conclave; Songs and Sonets; Devotions upon Emergent Occasions; Deaths Duell; "Hymne to God my God, in my sicknesse"; "A Hymne to God the Father"; "The First Anniversarie. An Anatomie of the World"; "The Second Anniversarie. Of the Progres of the Soule"
Author Covered: John Donne (1572-1631)

Table of Contents
Essay | Source Citation
[Raine is an English poet, essayist, autobiographer, and translator. In the following excerpt, she examines Donne's poetry as a reflection of a life lived at the intersection of the medieval age of faith and spirituality and the modern age of doubt and materialism.]

It is now for an entire literary generation that the metaphysical poets have seemed to have the clue to our own situation. It is not difficult to see why. For we, probably the most unhappy, and certainly the most torn by conflict, of all the generations since the seventeenth century, have to make a choice, as they had, between the desirable but doomed, and the less desirable but inevitable. To make a choice, or to find a solution. Whether one sees in Baroque art a resolved or an unresolved conflict, a consideration of what that conflict essentially was, cannot fail to compel our respect for the intellectual courage, not to say heroism, of the poet John Donne, who among other great figures of the Baroque period felt its full impact, and held in equipoise, even if only for a moment, those forces of change that in a few years transformed the medieval into the modern world....

Those who saw the turn of the sixteenth century, saw the passing of the Renaissance into the first dawning of the centuries of the Common Man, in the beginnings of Puritanism; they saw the last, superb expression of the ancient faith in Spanish Baroque art, and the Spanish Baroque saints; the highest point ever attained in Christian mysticism, in the period of Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross (both also poets) came late in the sixteenth century. Saint Teresa died in 1582, St. John in 1591. But Copernicus had already set the round earth in motion, and the little world of his new astronomy was already a diminished part in an expanding universe, and Europe itself a diminishing part of a world in which America was already appearing on the western horizon. The medieval world and the modern, the setting and the rising stars, were in the sky together, for those who would to compare the values that had shaped the human world of the past, with those that were to shape its future.

As the rift between the spiritual and the material values widened, the Great picked sides. England was then the great protagonist of the modern, Spain of the ancient, order. And in this polarity, English thought and poetry were strong influenced by Spanish for the first and last time in history. The metaphysical poets are the fruits of this close contact with Spain, and that at a time when both countries were in their golden age....

What was great in the Baroque poets was that they did not underrate either kind of truth. They tried to hold the two hemispheres (the very word is characteristic of Baroque poetry) together, and if even partially they succeeded, their achievement was a tremendous one. Then, as now, the price of seeing too clearly both systems of value, was conflict and unhappiness. But then, as now, neither the revolutionary nor the reactionary, both of whom see things more simply, was wholly civilized.

The greatness of Baroque art, therefore, may be seen to be not in its destructive element, but in its attempt to reconcile those kinds of knowledge that at certain times seem impossible to reconcile, except in art.

Professor Edouardo Sarmiento, writing of Spanish Baroque art, point out how, the counter-reformation notwithstanding, even in Catholic Spain, this sense of strain reveals a latent doubt, disbelief, and loss of faith. `If we may believe', he writes, `the involuntary evidence of the art-style of an age for the state of its soul, then we cannot doubt that some such diagnosis of the Spanish counter-reform is true. The Baroque bears the stigmata of disbelief, anxiety and decadence, as certainly as the Gothic bears marks of faith, joy, and vigour.'

The strain characteristic of Baroque art is typically expressed in the use of perspective. In Baroque painting, the human figure is by this means seen to stand not firmly anchored to the earth, but is represented in often tormented and sensational attitudes rising towards heaven, or some other infinite point introduced into the composition by this exaggeration of perspective....

This may seem to be a digression from the subject--the metaphysical poetry of John Donne. But it is not so. For in poetry, a comparable attempt to bring together into focus the finite and the infinite, is the typical metaphysical figure, common to English and Spanish baroque poets, the conceit. Like the Baroque facade, this is not, as it might appear, a merely decorative device, but an attempt, in poetry, to harness together the tremendous forces of the temporal and the eternal, felt, as they were at the time, to be pulling apart. Here is a piece of John Donne from the poem `Goodfriday 1613--Riding Westward', in which the space--the literal physical poles of the earth--are straining against the Christian image.

Let mans Soule be a Spheare, and then, in this,

The intelligence that moves, devotion is,

And as the other Spheares, by being growne

Subject to forraigne motions, lose their owne,

And being by others hurried every day,

Scarce in a yeare their naturall forme obey:

Pleasure or businesse, so, our Soules admit

For their first mover, and are whirld by it.

Hence is't, that I am carryed towards the West

This day, when my Soules forme bends towards the East.

There I should see a Sunne, by rising set,

And by that setting endlesse day beget;

But that Christ on this Crosse, did rise and fall,

Sinne had eternally benighted all.

In this poem, Donne achieves something, in poetic terms very like the Transparente of Spanish Baroque architecture. The static image of Christ, the earth's fixed centre, is harnessed to the whirling image of the Copernican movement of the revolving earth, the moving spheres.

Could I behold those hands which span the Poles,

And tune all spheares at once, pierc'd with those holes?

Could I behold that endless height which is

Zenith to us, and our Antipodes,

Humbled below us? or that blood which is

The seat of all our Soules, if not of his,

Made durt of dust, or that flesh which was worne

By God, for his apparell, rag'd, and torne?

The tension is immense. But the poem holds as it intends to hold, the two orders of reality together, not scientifically, or theologically, but as poetry--the only force perhaps that can harness together truths of different orders.

That is an extreme example of the constant characteristic of the conceit, which is to bring together, using as a focal point some light similarity between them, sharply contrasting images, belonging, often, to different orders of reality (as in the passage just quoted). Other figures are commonly used to accomplish the same end. Of metaphysical poems it is less the figures used than the purpose they serve that is characteristic.

In this other quoted passage from `The Relique', it is not science and the image of Christ that pull apart and are held by the conceit, but that other basic conflict that tormented the Baroque period, the paradox of life and death, sex and corruption.

When my grave is broke up againe

Some second ghest to entertaine,

(For graves have learn'd that woman-head

To be to more than one a Bed)

And he that digs it, spies

A bracelet of bright haire about the bone,

Will he not let'us alone,

And thinks that there a loving couple lies,

Who thought that this device might be some way

To make their soules, at the last busie day,

Meet at this grave, and make a little stay?

There are other subsidiary antitheses; there is the juxtaposition of the old half-legendary medievalism, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Noah and the flood and the rest--with the new Copernican pattern of the world.

Or again, the microcosm and the macrocosm are harnessed together in an image that recurs often in Donne, of life as land, death as sea:

Man is the world, and death the ocean

To which God gives the lower parts of men.

This sea invirons all land though as yet

God hath set marks and bounds twixt us and it,

Yet doth it rore and gnaw, and still pretend,

And breaks our banks whenere it takes a friend,

Then our land waters (tears of passion) vent,

Our waters, then above the firmament

(Tears which our Soul doth for her sins let fall)

Take all a brakish taste, and funerall.

`My America, my newfound land,' Donne called his mistress. One meets everywhere images of latitude and longitude, lengthening and shortening shadows: the new Copernican framework of the universe. Superimposed on the human measure of the Christian myth with eternity and infinity, God- in-man, at the centre, is a new order in which eternity and infinity are being banished to the circumference of an expanding universe, no longer infinitely present, but infinitely remote....

Want of beauty is a charge that has been made against Donne's poetry; and in a certain sense with justice. For the worlds of beauty and of reality, too, were pulling apart at the turn of the century. Shakespeare wrote in a language at once near the real speech of men, and equally capable of speaking for that inner voice of the soul (heard all too often in the nineteenth century), for the two were not very different in an age when soldiers like Sydney and Essex, and seamen like Sir Walter Raleigh found it natural to be poets. But at the turn of the century, Shakespeare himself wrote:

Truth may see, but cannot be,

Beauty brag, but 'tis not she,

Truth and beauty buried be.

Donne spoke a language stripped of magic, bare, in that sense, of beauty. Milton inherited the beauty, but no longer wrote poetry in a language that men spoke. One might see in this division, too, another symptom of the repression of the soul....

Each poem that he wrote is like a finely poised needle, suspended between the great magnets of science and religion, action and learning, the pleasures of love, the call to martyrdom; the infirm glory of the greatest court on earth; and the annihilation of all in death. The needle, for Donne, comes to rest only when it points to the one true North--that of love. And for Donne, as for Dante, it was through woman's love that his way lay towards the divine love that was his final point of rest.

In two of his longer works, we can see Donne's speculative mind at work in a way essentially modern, on changes of the medieval pattern of thought. `The Progresse of the Soule,' written in 1601, and one of Donne's finest poems, combines the Garden of Eden myth with a fine intuitive forecasting of modern biological theory. The transmigration of a `soul', beginning its life in an apple on the tree of Eden, and ending just as it reached the human level (rather in mid-air, as Donne did not finish the poem as he had originally planned it) are traced from plant to bird, to fish, whale, elephant, dog, ape, and finally to man. Donne having no theory of science to prove cannot be blamed if the order is a little out at one or two places. But that the `progresse' in the poem is so close to the picture that Darwin later established, is a measure of the natural scientific bent of Donne's mind. And all this is combined in a series of Duerer-like pictures of plant and animal life, suggesting the herbals and bestiaries of the middle ages, in which walks Eve herself, as true to life as detail can make her; her mythical figure pulls up a real mandrake plant to give, as medicine, to a real baby. Like Duerer, Donne makes the myth credible by the realism of the detail.

Nine years later; in 1610, Donne wrote Ignatius his Conclave. This satire is amusing reading even now; Donne describes his `vision', in which

I had liberty to wander through all places and to survey and reckon all the roomes, and all the volumes of the heavens, and to comprehend the situation, the dimensions, the nature, the people, and the policy, both of the swimming Islands, the Planets and of all those which are fixed in the firmament. Of which, I thinke it an honester part as yet to be silent, than to do Galileo wrong by speaking of it, who of late hath summoned the other worlds, the Stars to come nearer to him and give him an account of themselves. Or to Keppler, who as himselfe testifies of himselfe, ever since Tycho Braches death hath received it into his care, that no new thing should be done in heaven without his knowledge.

`In the twinkling of an eye', writes Donne,

`I saw all the roomes in Hell open to my sight. And by the benefit of certaine spectacles, I know not of what making, but I thinke, of the same, by which Gregory, the great, and Beda did discerne so distinctly the soules of their friends, when they were discharged from their bodies, and sometimes the soules of such men as they knew not by sight, and of some that never were in the world, and yet they could distinguish them flying into Heaven, or conversing with living men, I saw all the channels in the bowels of the Earth; and all the inhabitants of all nations, and of all ages were suddenly made familiar to me. I think truely, Robert Aquinas when he tooke Christs long Oration, as he hung upon the Crosse, did use some such instrument as this, but applied to the eare; And so I thinke did he, which dedicated to Adrian 6, the Sermon which Christ made in prayse of his father Joseph; for else how did they heare that, which none but they ever heard?

To proceed, Donne describes how (in Hell that is) `I saw a secret place, where there were not many, beside Lucifer himselfe; to which, onely they had title, which had so attempted any innovation in this life, that they gave an affront to all antiquitie, and induced doubts, and anxieties, and scruples, and after, a libertie of beleeving what they would; at length established opinions, directly contrary to all established before.'

Here we recognize, in comic dress, the same Baroque conflict of ideas, of new and uncontrollable ideas that are far-reaching enough quite to overturn the foundations of the world. There is very little comic Baroque art, but Ignatius his Conclave may be claimed as a rare example of this category.

In this imaginary `hell' the Jesuits take a high place as the arch equivocators. Here Donne `saw' St. Ignatius (like Jouvet, in monk's habit) standing very close to Lucifer himself, advising him on the cases of those pretenders who sought admission to Hell's most exalted rank, as distorters of the universe.

The pretenders and their claims are interesting. Copernicus puts his case: `Shall these gates be open to such as have innovated in small matters? and shall they be shut against me, who have turned the whole frame of the world, and am thereby almost a new "Creator"?' Ignatius opposes his claim. `Who cares', Ignatius asks, `whether the earth travell, or stand still? Hath your raising up of the earth into heaven, brought men to that confidence, that they build new towers or threaten God againe? Or do they out of this motion of the earth conclude, that there is no hell, or deny the punishment of sin? Do not men beleeve? do they not live just, as they did before?' Also `those opinions of yours may very well be true'--and that in itself must exclude Copernicus from the highest honours of Hell. In the light of subsequent history, one is inclined to think that Donne's Ignatius was premature in his conclusion that men went on living `just as they did before' after Copernicus.

Paracelsus was excluded likewise, because such as his discoveries were, they were of minor importance. Machiavelli had a better case:

although the entrance into his place may be decreed to none but the Innovators, and onely such of them as have dealt in Christian businesse; and of them also, to those only which have had the fortune to doe much harme, I cannot see but that next to the Jesuites, I must bee invited to enter, since I did not onely teach those wayes by which, through perfidiousness and dissembling of Religion, a man might possesse, and usurpe upon the liberty of free Commonwealths; but also did arme and furnish the people with my instructions, how when they were under this oppression, they might safeliest conspire, and remove a tyrant or revenge themselves of their Prince, and redeeme their former losses; so that from both sides, both from Prince and People, I brought an abundant harvest, and a noble increase to this kingdome. By this time I perceived Lucifer to bee much moved with this Oration, and to incline much towards Machiavel. For he did acknowledge him to bee a kind of Patriarke, of those whom they call Laymen. And he had long observed, that the Clergie of Rome tumbled downe to Hell daily, easily, voluntarily, and by troupes, because they were accustomed to sinne against their conscience, and knowledge; but that the Layitie sinning out of a slouthfulnesse, and negligence of finding the truth, did rather offend by ignorance, and omission. And therefore he thought himselfe bound to reward Machiavel, which had awakened this drowsie and implicite Layitie to greater, and more bloody undertakings.

`Vision' or not, what Donne wrote had this much truth in it. These were ideas whose conflict was on an earthly plan `inducing doubts, and anxieties, and scruples, and after, a liberty of believing what they would'....

Donne's middle period--the years of poverty and worry that drove him to the necessity of a servility to possible patrons that became him very ill; in a series of always frustrated attempts to get back into a career of some sort--produced no poems as fine in their kind as the early Songs and Sonnets, or later Holy Sonnets and religious verse. But those he wrote at that time are revealing, bringing to light as they do the measure of the spiritual maladjustment of Donne to his world, and that world to itself; and the growing seriousness with which the poet now sought to find a solution for a problem whose implications he increasingly realized. The clue is to be found in `The Anatomie of the World' and the `First and Second Anniversaries.' These ambitious poems, full of fine passages, have something deeply wrong about them, and are embarrassing reading even now. This is not so much because they were written to some extent (possibly, or partly) with an eye to getting a patron (which they did), but because they open a religious void that it is saddening to contemplate.

These Rilke-like poems were written, like the Duino Elegies, on the occasion of the untimely death of a young girl--a girl whom the poet had never seen--Miss Elizabeth Drury, only daughter of that Sir Robert Drury who was to be Donne's patron for a number of years. And if ever poems rang false, these do. `If it had been written of the Virgin Mary it had been something,' Ben Jonson said of the `Anatomie of the World'--and he has put his finger on the very point of the weakness. They were not written of the Virgin Mary. They were, however (as Donne said), written `of the idea of a woman, not as she was'. They were, in fact, a lamentable, trumped-up attempt to put a personal image and personal `idea of a woman' in the place of the old and universal Christian pantheon--even of the Mother of God herself--who were gone from the empty niches of the reformed churches of England. This pompous, inflated, home-made improvisation tagged on to the corpse of Miss Elizabeth Drury reveals just how far adulation falls short of canonization. The root of medieval faith had been severed. Not one of the elegies that Donne wrote in succeeding years, attributing to the nobility and to princes virtues that they may have possessed, or may not, ever could bridge that gulf between the scepticism of the reform and the lost medieval faith. They remain mere epitaphs: these poems, and all Donne's poetry of the grave and the dead, is like a dark after-image of the light of faith and bears to the medieval faith the skull-like resemblance that the negative photograph bears to the positive.

Donne did indeed, like an apostle not of faith but of mortality, put something in those empty niches, in those churches deserted by their saints. But not the carved angels, not the shrines of gothic saints. He hung those empty walls with emblems of mortality, urns, marmoreals, symbols of death and physical corruption; the pomp of the grave, not the symbols of life. These silent testimonies of doubt have, in the English churches, replaced the saints in their shrines. Donne was, of that tradition, one of the orginators, who left imprinted on the English Church its characteristic grand, but essential, though reluctant, scepticism....

And yet there is greatness in the scepticism of the reform--for it is a relative, not an absolute scepticism that we find in the English Baroque; a scepticism that would fain believe, not one that belittles, with the diabolical `spirit that denies'. One that does still, in fact, hold to the desirability of faith, and therewith, some faith also....

Two years after Donne's ordination, and four before his appointment as Dean of St. Paul's, Anne Donne died in giving birth to their twelfth child. If one sees the events of a life as stages of a pilgrimage, it is difficult not to see in Anne Donne's death as the departure of one of those legendary guides--like Dante's Virgil, or Beatrice, who stayed with the poet only until her work was accomplished, for now Donne had entered the last stage of his strange development. Henceforth his inner life was to be lived in relation only to God.

Look at the beginning of Donne's life--those love-poems, so subtly introspective, yet so worldly, so far from serious; at the portrait of Jack Donne at eighteen, the young man with the earrings, at the end of his three years at Cambridge; and look at the end--the eloquent divine, who, in the words of one critic, now `put a trumpet to his lips'; who himself chose that posterity should remember him in the aspect of his death, the features burned out, the winding sheet tied about his face. How did the one change into the other? It happened imperceptibly, naturally. It is the same man. That unmistakable personal idiom, the rapid ardent sentences, the very imagery of the early love poems are found in the Holy Sonnets. The very imagery of erotic love is retained, and amplified into a symbolic language to speak of God, and to God.

Take mee to you, imprison me, for I

Except you enthrall mee, never shall be free,

Norever chast, except you ravish mee.

The first and the last poems that he wrote, use almost precisely the same images.

Donne indeed put a trumpet to his lips in those later years, when he preached at Paul's Cross, to the people, and before two kings--James I, and later King Charles--at Whitehall; when he summoned up the angels in Baroque imagery of unsurpassed grandeur--

At the round earth's imagin'd corners, blow

Your trumpets, Angells, and arise, arise

From death, you numberlesse infinities

Of soules, and to your scattred bodies goe,

All whom flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,

All whom warre, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,

Despaire, law, chance, hath slaine, and you whose eyes,

Shall behold God, and never tast deaths woe.

But a trumpet does not necessarily mean a release from doubts. With Donne, the light and shade was deeper, that was all, as his life declined from evening into night. In his youth, that we cannot know all seemed reason to doubt God; in his maturity, a reason for trusting Him. But as the noon of love darkened into the shadow of death, the witty scepticism of youth darkened into the agonizing doubts of age. It is still a poetry of doubt, of decline from faith, struggling to find certainty at the brink of the grave, that no other times of life, neither the love nor the learning of his prime, had yielded the poet. For all Donne's doubts gradually focused on one point--Death. As in loving women he was introspective, analysing his love, so in his sickness he analysed himself as thoroughly as Freud could ever have searched the submerged regions of instinct and the unconscious. If only he could have found the soul, and brought it out like an undiscovered organ! But deep as he might search, it was not to be found. The Devotions on Sundrie Occasions are in their way as searchingly introspective as the Ascent of Mount Carmel. But they are the voice of the body, the unconscious, the dark chaos of man, not his incandescence, as is St. John's great introspective analysis.

To pass over the twenty years of his preaching and ministry, we reach the story of Donne's death. In the winter of 1630, Donne was a dying man. He was too ill to preach at Christmas, but at the beginning of Lent, knowing that it was for the last time, he rose from his bed to preach perhaps his greatest sermon of all--Death's Duell, or A Consolation to the Soul against the Dying Life, and Living Death of the Body. This sermon was `Delivered at Whitehall, before the King's Majesty' on 25 February, 1630, `Being his last Sermon and called by His Majesties' Household, the Doctor's owne Funerall Sermon'. He took as his text the terrible sentence `And unto God the Lord, belong the issues of death'. Here at its most sublime is that `metaphysical shudder', the horror of mortality....

But in the very toils of this death, Donne was to portray, as it has never before or since been portrayed in England in poetry, or in any other art, the scene of the Crucifixion, in a baroque magnificence comparable only to the painting of El Greco:

There now hangs that sacred Body upon the Crosse, rebaptized in his owne teares and sweat, and embalmed in his owne blood alive. There are those bowells of compassion, which are so conspicuous, so manifested, as that you may see them through his wounds. There those glorious eyes grew faint in their light: so as the Sun ashamed to survive them, departed with his light too. And then that Sonne of God, who was never from us, and yet had now come a new way unto us in assuming our nature, delivers that soule (which was never out of his Father's hand) by a new way, a voluntary emission of it into his Father's hands; For though to his God our Lord, belong'd these issues of death, so that considered in his owne contract, he must necessarily die, yet at no breach or battery, which they had made upon his sacred Body, issued his soule, but emisit, hee gave up the Ghost, and as God breathed a soule into the first Adam, so this second Adam breathed his soule into God, into the hands of God. There wee leave you in that blessed dependancy, to hang upon him that hangs upon the Crosse, there bath in his teares, there suck at his woundes, and lie downe in peace in his grave, till hee vouchsafe you a resurrection, and an ascension into that Kingdome, which hee hath purchas'd for you, with the inestimable price of his incorruptible blood.

Here indeed we have doubt at its most heroic, redeemed by its own intensity, and achieving the stature of faith. For greater than a complacent belief in something trivial, is the doubt of something great. For to doubt is in itself to assert and establish the values doubted. So Baroque art takes its stature from medieval faith. Never again, perhaps, will a decline of faith produce anything comparable, for never again will the world have so much to lose, as the medieval Christian faith. Compared with the struggle with which then were relinquished the values of a passing age, it is frightening to see, in our period, with what ease, what lack of spiritual struggle, values are discarded. For the gulf that opens for us (in Mein Kampf, the Communist Manifesto, and our own and the American materialist Utopias) is as much deeper than Donne's relative doubt as medieval Christianity was higher than the liberal humanism that succeeded it, and is now in its turn the vanishing faith.

The image of Christ crucified is, of all the Christian images, the one that in itself contains the full paradox of human doubt and human faith, the focal point of temporal and eternal, at which the eternal is at once most essentially challenged, and most essentially triumphant. For Donne, the pull was not only away from faith, but also, with equal, and perhaps finally with greater strength, towards it. At the end of his life only two magnets retained any power over him--the image of the grave and the image of God.

In the seven weeks that lay between the preaching of Death's Duell and death itself, Donne prepared for his promised end, still seeking God with a courage equal to that of any saint who ever battled his way out of this world....

To these last weeks also belong two of the greatest of his lyrical poems--the `Hymne to God my God, in my sicknesse', and `A Hymne to God the Father'.

In the first Donne, for a moment echoing the faith of Saint John of the Cross who wrote of the soul:

Oh night more lovely than the day

Oh night that joined the beloved with her lover,

and changed her into her love,

writes like a mystic `Since I am coming to that Holy roome Where, with thy Quire of Saints for evermore I shall be made thy Musique'.

He takes his last backward look on the world. How long ago it was that he had written of his mistress' body,

without sharp north, without declining west.

How long ago those voyages with Essex, long dead, to Cadiz and the Azores! Now these images of life are seen down the lengthening perspective of death:

Whilst my Physitians by their love are growne

Cosmographers, and I their Mapp, who lie

Flat on his bed, that by them may be showne

That this is my South-west discoverie

Per fretum febris, by these streights to die,

I joy, that in these straits, I see my West;

For, though theire currants yeeld returne to none,

What shall my West hurt me? As West and East

In all flatt Maps (and I am one) are one,

So death doth touch the Resurrection.

And for the last time for centuries to come, the natural and the spiritual orders are brought together in a Baroque image of unsurpassed power; for one last time the poles of the natural world, of the human measure and of supernatural truth, were one:

We thinke that Paradise and Calvarie,

Christs Crosse, and Adams tree, stood in one place;

Looke Lord, and finde both Adams met in me;

As the first Adams sweat surrounds my face,

May the last Adams blood my soule embrace.

But to his very death, doubt and faith struggled for the soul of John Donne. His last written words were these:

I have a sinne of feare, that when I have spunne

My last thred, I shall perish on the shore;

Sweare by thy selfe, that at my death thy sonne

Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;

And, having done that, Thou haste done,

I feare no more.

It has remained for a painter of our own tormented age, Stanley Spenser, to paint the scene that the monument he himself designed has for so long obscured, of `John Donne arriving at the Gates of Heaven'. For though much had perished in doubt, enough faith finally remained to bring within their reach that heroic soul who welded together in his poetry the hemispheres of broken truth.

Source Citation: Raine, Kathleen, "John Donne and the Baroque Doubt," in Horizon, London, Vol. XI, No. 66, June, 1945, pp. 371-95.