13 October 2010 | Vol. 10, No. 3

from Devotion XVII.
Nunc lento sonitu dicunt, morieris.

Now, this bell tolling softly for another, says to me: Thou must die.


My God, my God, is this one of thy ways of drawing light out of darkness, to make him for whom this bell tolls, now in this dimness of his sight, to become a superintendent, an overseer, a bishop, to as many as hear his voice in this bell, and to give us a confirmation in this action? Is this one of thy ways, to raise strength out of weakness, to make him who cannot rise from his bed, nor stir in his bed, come home to me, and in this sound give me the strength of healthy and vigorous instructions? O my God, my God, what thunder is not a well-tuned cymbal, what hoarseness, what harshness, is not a clear organ, if thou be pleased to set thy voice to it? And what organ is not well played on if thy hand be upon it? Thy voice, thy hand, is in this sound, and in this one sound I hear this whole concert. I hear thy Jacob call unto his sons and say, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days: he says, That which I am now, you must be then. I hear thy Moses telling me, and all within the compass of this sound, This is the blessing wherewith I bless you before my death; this, that before your death, you would consider your own in mine. I hear thy prophet saying to Hezekiah, Set thy house in order, for thou shalt die, and not live: he makes use of his family, and calls this a setting of his house in order, to compose us to the meditation of death. I hear thy apostle saying, I think it meet to put you in remembrance, knowing that shortly I must go out of this tabernacle: this is the publishing of his will, and this bell is our legacy, the applying of his present condition to our use. I hear that which makes all sounds music, and all music perfect; I hear thy Son himself saying, Let not your hearts be troubled; only I hear this change, that whereas thy Son says there, I go to prepare a place for you, this man in this sound says, I send to prepare you for a place, for a grave. But, O my God, my God, since heaven is glory and joy, why do not glorious and joyful things lead us, induce us to heaven? Thy legacies in thy first will, in the Old Testament, were plenty and victory, wine and oil, milk and honey, alliances of friends, ruin of enemies, peaceful hearts and cheerful countenances, and by these galleries thou broughtest them into thy bedchamber, by these glories and joys, to the joys and glories of heaven. Why hast thou changed thine old way, and carried us by the ways of discipline and mortification, by the ways of mourning and lamentation, by the ways of miserable ends and miserable anticipations of those miseries, in appropriating the exemplar miseries of others to ourselves, and usurping upon their miseries as our own, to our prejudice? Is the glory of heaven no perfecter in itself, but that it needs a foil of depression and ingloriousness in this world, to set it off? Is the joy of heaven no perfecter in itself, but that it needs the sourness of this life to give it a taste? Is that joy and that glory but a comparative glory and a comparative joy? not such in itself, but such in comparison of the joylessness and the ingloriousness of this world? I know, my God, it is far, far otherwise. As thou thyself, who art all, art made of no substances, so the joys and glory which are with thee are made of none of these circumstances, essential joy, and glory essential. But why then, my God, wilt thou not begin them here? Pardon, O God, this unthankful rashness; I that ask why thou dost not, find even now in myself, that thou dost; such joy, such glory, as that I conclude upon myself, upon all, they that find not joys in their sorrows, glory in their dejections in this world, are in a fearful danger of missing both in the next.

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About the author:

1752-1631. John Donne was a major metaphysical poet and an Anglican priest.

For further reading:

See the complete list of work by John Donne at 42opus. Browse the contents of 42opus Vol. 10, No. 3, where "from Devotion XVII.
Nunc lento sonitu dicunt, morieris." ran on October 13, 2010. List other work with these same labels: poetry, classic, prose poem.

42opus is an online magazine of the literary arts.

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