Table of Contents
“A Hymn To Christ” is a poem written by eminent poet John Donne. It is a beautiful poem that brings out the purity associated with the concept of spiritual love and faith in God.
About the Poet:
John Donne (1572-1631) was a prominent English poet and scholar. A cleric in the Church of England, he was considered the greatest of the metaphysical poets at that time. Famous works of his include ‘The Flea’, ‘Holy Sonnets’, and ‘The Sun Rising’.
This poem consists of 4 stanzas consisting of 8 lines each. It is in the form of a dramatic monologue addressing Jesus Christ.
Analysis and Summary:
In what torn ship so ever I embark, That ship shall be my emblem of Thy ark ; What sea soever swallow me, that flood Shall be to me an emblem of Thy blood ; Though Thou with clouds of anger do disguise Thy face, yet through that mask I know those eyes, Which, though they turn away sometimes, They never will despise.
The poem begins with a direct address to a “you” who isn’t mentioned by name. The persona has a lot of faith in this person, stating that he would consider any ship the “emblem of Thy ark” and that any flood would be an “emblem of Thy blood”. The persona also declares that he would know “those eyes” even in anger as “They never will despise” him.
From contextual reference, it can be gleaned that the persona is referring to Jesus Christ. The words “ark” and “flood” can be seen in connection to the Great Deluge and Noah’s Ark. The persona stating that they are an “emblem” of Christ shed light on how deep his faith runs and how he sees God in everything he does. His faith is also unshakable for God’s love for him back, even in anger, as can be gathered from the last couple of lines of this stanza.
I sacrifice this island unto Thee, And all whom I love there, and who loved me ; When I have put our seas 'twixt them and me, Put thou Thy seas betwixt my sins and Thee. As the tree's sap doth seek the root below In winter, in my winter now I go, Where none but Thee, the eternal root Of true love, I may know.
Here, the persona is talking about how he will sacrifice “this island” and “All of whom I love there” to Christ. Just as seas separate him and others, he puts Christ’s “seas” between Him and his sins. For like the roots of a tree, his own love for Him runs deep.
This stanza is an extension of the previous stanza where the persona not just cements his faith in Christ but also his endless love for Him– “…the eternal root/ Of true love…” Further, the persona’s belief that this all-powerful spiritual love that goes beyond any love he might have for anyone absolves him of his sins is also brought out here. Two metaphors are observed here– the persona’s description of his love for Christ to be “the eternal root” of the tree of “true love” and how the same– “Thy seas” could redeem him of his sins.
Nor Thou nor Thy religion dost control The amorousness of an harmonious soul ; But Thou wouldst have that love Thyself; as Thou Art jealous, Lord, so I am jealous now ; Thou lovest not, till from loving more Thou free My soul; Whoever gives, takes liberty ; Oh, if Thou carest not whom I love, Alas! Thou lovest not me.
Here, the poet states that “The amorousness” of his “harmonious soul” for Christ is uncontrollable. He states that He would possess such love as well and would be “jealous” of the same, just as the persona himself. The persona finds that if Christ “carest not whom I love”, then that meant He didn’t “lovest” him.
This stanza once again brings out the depth of the love he has for Christ– one that is so spiritual that it goes beyond the control of even Him and religion as a whole. This spiritual also has a certain love of physicality and intimacy that is normally associated with the romantic notion of love. The persona’s introduction of the concept of jealousy in this stanza stands as testimony to this fact.
Seal then this bill of my divorce to all, On whom those fainter beams of love did fall ; Marry those loves, which in youth scatter'd be On fame, wit, hopes—false mistresses—to Thee. Churches are best for prayer, that have least light ; To see God only, I go out of sight ; And to escape stormy days, I choose An everlasting night.
Here, the persona declares that he would “divorce” all those people “whom those fainter beams of love did fall” from him. He forsakes all whom he did “marry” in his “youth” for Him. He further states that “Churches are best for prayer” and that he would have “least light” just to see God even on “An everlasting night”.
This stanza has a bit of humour that is characteristic of the works of Donne. His “divorce” of not just persons he loved but his “false mistresses” such as “fame, wit, hopes” evokes this, even as it again affirms the romantic notion of spiritual love he has for God. His choosing partial, limited vision just enough to see Him, nothing else again denotes the depth of his love and faith for God.
This is a deeply spiritual poem. It brings out the deep, spiritual love that Donne has for Christ, one that transcends above all in the world.