John Donne on Friday

The Cross


Since Christ embraced the Cross itself, dare I

His image, th’ image of his Cross deny?

Would I have profit by the sacrifice,

And dare the chosen altar to despise?

It bore all other sins, but is it fit

That it should bear the sin of scorning it?

Who from the picture would avert his eye,

How would he fly his pains, who there did die?

From me, no pulpit, nor misgrounded law,

Nor scandal taken, shall this Cross withdraw,

It shall not, for it cannot; for, the loss

Of this Cross, were to me another cross;

Better were worse, for, no affliction,

No cross is so extreme, as to have none.

Who can blot out the Cross, which th’ instrument

Of God, dewed on me in the Sacrament?

Who can deny me power, and liberty

To stretch mine arms, and mine own cross to be?

Swim, and at every stroke, thou art thy cross,

The mast and yard make one, where seas do toss.

Look down, thou spiest out crosses in small things;

Look up, thou seest birds raised on crossed wings;

All the globe’s frame, and sphere’s, is nothing else

But the meridians crossing parallels.

Material crosses then, good physic be,

And yet spiritual have chief dignity.

These for extracted chemic medicine serve,

And cure much better, and as well preserve;

Then are you your own physic, or need none,

When stilled, or purged by tribulation.

For when that Cross ungrudged, unto you sticks,

Then are you to yourself, a crucifix.

As perchance, carvers do not faces make,

But that away, which hid them there, do take:

Let crosses, so, take what hid Christ in thee,

And be his image, or not his, but he.

But, as oft alchemists do coiners prove,

So may a self-despising, get self-love.

And then as worst surfeits, of best meats be,

So is pride, issued from humility,

For, ’tis no child, but monster; therefore cross

Your joy in crosses, else, ’tis double loss,

And cross they senses, else, both they, and thou

Must perish soon, and to destruction bow.

For if the’eye seek good objects, and will take

No cross from bad, we cannot ‘scape a snake.

So with harsh, hard, sour, stinking, cross the rest,

Make them indifferent; call nothing best.

But most the eye needs crossing, that can roam,

And move; to th’ others th’ objects must come home.

And cross thy heart: for that in man alone

Points downwards, and hath palpitation.

Cross those dejections, when it downward tends,

And when it to forbidden heights pretends.

And as the brain through bony walls doth vent

By sutures, which a cross’s form present,

So when thy brain works, ere thou utter it,

Cross and correct concupiscence of wit.

Be covetous of crosses, let none fall.

Cross no man else, but cross thyself in all.

Then doth the Cross of Christ work fruitfully

Within our hearts, when we love harmlessly

That Cross’s pictures much, and with more care

That Cross’s children, which our crosses are.


Selection take from: John Donne: A Critical Edition of the Major Works,  edited by John Carey; Oxford: OUP, 1990

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