John Donne on Friday

From a sermon preached at Lincoln’s Inn (1618)

[Man’s Misery]

First we contemplate man, as the receptacle, the ocean of all misery. Fire and air, water and earth, are not the elements of man; inward decay, and outward violence, bodily pain, and sorrow of heart may be rather styled his elements; And though he be destroyed by these, yet he consists of nothing but these. As the good qualities of all creatures are not for their own use, (for the sun sees not his  own glory, nor the rose smells not her own breath: but all their good is for man) so the ill conditions of the creature, are not directed upon themselves, (the toad poisons not itself, nor does the viper bite itself)  but all their ill pours down upon man. As though man could be a microcosm, a world in himself, no other way, except all the misery of the world fell upon him. Adam was able to decipher the nature of every creature in the name thereof, and the Holy Ghost hath deciphered his in his name too; In all those names that the Holy Ghost hath given man, he hath declared him miserable, for, Adam, (by which name God calls him, and Eve too) signifies but redness, but a blushing: and whether we consider their low materials, as it was but earth, or the redness of that earth, as they stained it with their own blood, and the blood of all their posterity, and as they drew another more precious blood, the blood of the Messias upon it, every way both may be Adam, both may blush. So God called that pair, our ifrst parents, amn in that root, Adam: But the first name, by which God called man in general, mankind, is Ish, Therefore shall a man leave his father, etc. [Gen. 2:24] And Ish, is but a sonitu, a rugitu [from a sound, from a cry]: Man hath his name from crying, and the occasion of crying, misery, testified in his entrance into the world, for he is born crying; and our very laws presume, that if he be alive, he will cry, and if he be not heard cry, conclude him to be born dead. And where man is called Gheber, (as he is often) which is derived from greatness, man is but great so, as that word signifies; It signifies a giant, an oppressor, great in power, and in a delight to do great mischiefs upon others, or great, as he is a great mark, and easily hit by others. But man hath a fourth name too in Scripture, Enosh, and that signifies nothing but misery. When David says, Put them in fear O Lord, that the nations may know they are but men [Ps. 9:20]; there’s that name Enosh, that they are but miserable things. Adam is blushing, Ish is lamentingGeber is oppressing, Enosh is all that; but especially that, which is especially notified for  the misery in our text, Enosh is Homo aeger [a sick man], a man miserable, in particular by the misery of sickness, which our next step, Non sanitas, There is no soundness, no health in me





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

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