Posted by: davidlarkin | September 15, 2019

Doing Good and John Donne

Painting of British poet and cleric John Donne from the British National Portrait Gallery, London, by an Unknown Artist, circa 1595

We have a nature that does not necessarily have our best interests at heart which manifests as vices in need of control, e.g., appetite, temper, desire for instant results (impatience), etc. Desires can overwhelm reason. We need to impose by will second order desires to overcome the strong instinctive and bodily desires manifested in our options for choice. I have a second order desire to curb my appetite, to avoid alcohol, to avoid sugar (with Diabetes Type 2), to exercise, etc. But it is a battle with the first order desires which are often self-destructive, for example, what I desire to eat.

The Desires of the Flesh.  Jesus said,

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Matthew 26:41 (ESV)

The Apostle Paul wrote of this problem:

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”

Paul’s letter to the Romans 7:15-17 (ESV)

The solution to strengthen the will to overcome the destructive desires of the flesh is prayer. First, it is easier if we avoid the occasion where The simplest prayer for this is found in the Lord’s Prayer: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver is from evil.”

Second, in our own words, we can sincerely pray for deliverance from specific harmful desires and for strength to overcome them when the arise.

John Donne (1572–1631), the English poet and cleric in the Church of England, considered the preeminent “Metaphysical Poet” of his time, attributed this battle of the soul between his savior Jesus and the enemy, the devil in his Holy Sonnet, Batter My Heart, three-person’d God”

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
—–

From PoetryFoundation.org: The English writer and Anglican cleric John Donne is considered now to be the preeminent metaphysical poet of his time. He was born in 1572 to Roman Catholic parents, when practicing that religion was illegal in England. His work is distinguished by its emotional and sonic intensity and its capacity to plumb the paradoxes of faith, human and divine love, and the possibility of salvation. Donne often employs conceits, or extended metaphors, to yoke together “heterogenous ideas,” in the words of Samuel Johnson, thus generating the powerful ambiguity for which his work is famous. After a resurgence in his popularity in the early 20th century, Donne’s standing as a great English poet, and one of the greatest writers of English prose, is now assured.

The history of Donne’s reputation is the most remarkable of any major writer in English; no other body of great poetry has fallen so far from favor for so long. In Donne’s own day his poetry was highly prized among the small circle of his admirers, who read it as it was circulated in manuscript, and in his later years he gained wide fame as a preacher. For some 30 years after his death successive editions of his verse stamped his powerful influence upon English poets. During the Restoration his writing went out of fashion and remained so for several centuries. Throughout the 18th century, and for much of the 19th century, he was little read and scarcely appreciated. It was not until the end of the 1800s that Donne’s poetry was eagerly taken up by a growing band of avant-garde readers and writers. His prose remained largely unnoticed until 1919.

In the first two decades of the 20th century Donne’s poetry was decisively rehabilitated. Its extraordinary appeal to modern readers throws light on the Modernist movement, as well as on our intuitive response to our own times. Donne may no longer be the cult figure he became in the 1920s and 1930s, when T.S. Eliot and William Butler Yeats, among others, discovered in his poetry the peculiar fusion of intellect and passion and the alert contemporariness which they aspired to in their own art. He is not a poet for all tastes and times; yet for many readers Donne remains what Ben Jonson judged him: “the first poet in the world in some things.” His poems continue to engage the attention and challenge the experience of readers who come to him afresh. His high place in the pantheon of the English poets now seems secure.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/john-donne


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