The Crosse

Friday is a day to remember The Cross. This poem by John Donne, which I first read at least 15 years ago, contributed to my own alienation from modern minimalists and anti-sacramentalists. It is long and full of theology, and by the time I get to the end I am always lifted up by joy. It must be that cup of joy He gave us by taking the cup of death. I’ve put it with the old spellings and words, to remind me of the historical context in which it was written, but it can be found in an updated form here.

I wonder if I wasn’t imbued with a love for The Cross from my earliest Sunday School classes; my teacher gave me a small plastic cross with adhesive on the back, which I stuck to the wall above my bed. I looked at it every night before I went to sleep, for years, as it was the sort of material that absorbed light and glowed for a while after the electric lights were put out.


Since Christ embrac’d the Crosse it selfe, dare I
His image, the’image of his Crosse deny?
Would I have profit by the sacrifice,
And dare the chosen Altar to despise?
It bore all other sinnes, but is it fit
That it should beare the sinne of scorning it?
Who from the picture would avert his eye,
How would he flye his paines, who there did dye?
From mee, no Pulpit, nor misgrounded law,
Nor scandall taken, shall this Crosse withdraw,
It shall not, for it cannot; for, the losse
Of this Crosse, were to mee another Crosse.
Better were worse, for no affliction,
No Crosse is so extreme, as to have none;
Who can blot out the Crosse, which the’instrument
Of God, dew’d on mee in the Sacrament?
Who can deny mee power, and liberty
To stretch mine armes, and mine owne Crosse to be?
Swimme, and at every stroake, thou art thy Crosse,
The Mast and yard make one, where seas do tosse.
Looke downe, thou spiest out Crosses in small things;
Looke up, thou seest birds rais’d on crossed wings;
All the Globes frame, and spheares, is nothing else
But the Meridians crossing Parallels.
Materiall Crosses then, good physicke bee,
And yet spirituall have chiefe dignity,
These for extracted chimique medicine serve,
And cure much better, and as well preserve;
Then are you your own physicke, or need none,
When Still’d, or purg’d by tribulation.
For when that Crosse ungrudg’d, unto you stickes,
Then are you to your selfe, a Crucifixe.
As perchance, Carvers do not faces make,
But that away, which hid them there, do take.
Let Crosses, soe, take what hid Christ in thee,
And be his image, or not his, but hee.
But, as oft Alchimists doe coyners prove,
So may a self-dispising, get selfe-love.
And then as worst surfets, of best meates bee,
Soe is pride, issued from humility,
For, ’tis no child, but monster;  therefore Crosse
Your joy in crosses, elso, ’tis double losse,
And crosse thy senses, else, both they, and thou
Must perish soone, and to destruction bowe.
For if the’eye seeke good objects, and will take
No crosse from bad, wee cannot scape a snake.
So with harsh, hard, sowre, stinking, crosse the rest,
Make them indifferent; call nothing best.
But most the eye needs crossing, that can rome,
And move;  to th’others th’objects must come home.
And crosse thy heart:  for that in man alone
Points downewards, and hath palpitation.
Crosse those dejections, when it downeward tends,
And when it to forbidden heights pretends.
And as thy braine through bony walls doth vent
By sutures, which a Crosses forme present,
So when thy braine workes, ere thou utter it,
Crosse and correct concupiscence of witt.
Be covetous of Crosses, let none fall.
Crosse no man else, but crosse thy selfe in all.
Then doth the Crosse of Christ worke fruitfully
Within our hearts, when wee love harmlesly
That Crosses pictures much, and with more care
That Crosses children, which our Crosses are.

-John Donne

5 thoughts on “The Crosse

  1. I love Donne. I LOVE Donne. Since the whole Renaissance Poetry thing at university all those former lives ago. We're never done with Donne. Do you love his sermons as well? I do. You must know the Easter Day one. Of course you do! Donne and dusted!


  2. If you like John Donne, Joanna, you will absolutely love William Habington (d. 1654). I'm off Donne myself. A conscious decision I made not too long ago. Too much tension, almost as if he's standing on an eschatological fault line.

    Thanks for posting…


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