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“Spit in my face, you Jews, and pierce my side,Buffet, and scoff, scourge, and crucify me, For I have sinn'd, and sinne', and only He,Who could do no iniquity, hath died.But by my death can not be satisfiedMy sins, which pass the Jews' impiety.They kill'd once an inglorious man, but ICrucify him daily, being now glorified.O let me then His strange love still admire ;Kings pardon, but He bore our punishment ;And Jacob came clothed in vile harsh attire,But to supplant, and with gainful intent ;God clothed Himself in vile man's flesh, that soHe might be weak enough to suffer woe.”
There are many things that we can analyze and interpret from the sonnet as a whole before we dissect into the sonnet’s individual components. According to Douglas Trevor, who is the assistant professor of English at the University of Iowa, this sonnet, and in fact most of Donne’s Holy Sonnets exhibit what he refers to as “scholarly melancholy”. Trevor draws reference to Donne himself as a reason behind the melancholy in his works, stating that “Throughout his life, John Donne’s prose and poetry are filled with references to, as well as accounts of, his self-understanding as a melancholic”. He then delves deeper into this melancholy, linking it with religion, which is very apt in reference to Sonnet XI; this melancholy, and furthermore religious melancholy, would have no doubt been as a result of Donne’s tumultuous and contradictory life, especially within the context of his being an official of the Church. According to Julia Kristeva, whom the author quotes in his analysis, "the implicitness of love and consequently of reconciliation and forgiveness completely transforms the scope of Christian initiation by giving it an aura of glory and unwavering hope for those who believe. Christian faith appears then as an antidote to hiatus and depression, along with hiatus and depression and starting from them“, which brings me to my next point . We can see the elements of scholarly melancholy in this sonnet as the first part deals with Jesus’ death and crucifixion, however, we also see the sense of hope that comes in the second part, that all is not lost, and although the grief and guilt are still there, God’s love will conquer all. We see the parallels with Donne’s religious melancholy and the “hiatus and depression that accompany the beginning of Christian faith” as he obviously wants to suffer like Jesus did, to endure depression and desolation for the sake of his Lord. But we also see the Christian faith that they also speak of, in lines 9-14, where Donne, despite his self-persecution, admires the fact that God still loves us in spite of our sin and that Jesus, who was the only person who did not deserve to die from sin, was the one who did.
SPIT IN MY FACE, YOU JEWS, AND PIERCE MY SIDE, BUFFET, AND SCOFF, and SCOURGE AND CRUCIFY ME, For I have sinn'd, and sinne', and only He,Who could do no iniquity, hath died. In the beginning of Sonnet XI, Donne gives us quite a violent awakening. He is essentially asking to be persecuted and subjected to the suffering that Jesus endured, acknowledging his life as a sinner and the fact that he continues to persecute Jesus in his sinfulness, in his humanity. Anarticle entitled “Augustinian Spirituality an the Holy Sonnets of John Donne”, written by Patrick Grant and published by the Johns Hopkins University Press speaks about this, and in particular these two beginning lines; it begins with St. Bonaventure, who was a faithful disciple of St. Augustine, and his thoughts on atonement. Grant the author, quotes verses from a meditation that St. Bonaventure is promoting, which, in the last lines he interjects with a prayer of strength for himself– ‘Tecumvolovulnerari, Te libenteramplexari In crucedesidero.’ Bonaventure is essentially ending the way Donne begins – with a desire to join Christ in his crucifixion. With regards to the audio, notice how Donne writes the sonnet, in particular the first two lines where he says "Spit in my face, you Jews, and pierce my side, buffet, and scoff, and scourge, and crucify me" - this gives the impression of continuous suffering, in his use of the word "and" between each punishment, as there is no pause that would have been granted by the use of a comma alone. We can hear from the voiceover how the speaker recites it as well that the suffering verbs just seem to go from one to the other without a break, and also increase in intensity. We also hear the “and” between the “sinn’d and “sinne’” which again gives an impression of continuity in that he, the speaker, has sinned and continues to sin. It is as if he wants his suffering to be as continuous as his sin.
But by my death can not be satisfiedMy sins, which pass the Jews' impiety.They kill'd once an inglorious man, but ICrucify him daily, being now glorified. Donne here identifies himself with the Jews, as someone who “condemns Christ to death” and he is persecuted by His own guilt, which had originally pained Christ and made the Redemption necessary. He, however, acknowledges his worthlessness in his humanity, and thus he is merely a helpless bystander, who suffers as he watches his Lord suffer for his sake. According to Thomas Hahn, author of “The Antecedents of Donne’s Holy Sonnet XI”, “Donne in this way combines both traditions of Passion (as in the passion of Christ) and compassion. Donne’s amalgam intensifies and personalizes the traditional sufferings of the Savior by underscoring the sinner’s own self-consciousness and his consequent participation in Christ’s torment”. Donne is essentially lamenting his humanity and natural predisposition to sin, as he acknowledges that he cannot truly atone for his sins the way Jesus did for him. This all points back to his desire for atonement and wanting to suffer in the first two lines of the sonnet; here we see the reasons behind this. Moreover, the teaching goes that Jesus died and rose again after three days in glory to ascend into Heaven with God the Father, hence why Donne mentions “being now glorified”. This additionally makes his sins seem even more filthy and apparent and makes his impiety even more so, because the Jews killed Jesus while He was human; Donne “kills” Jesus even now that He is Lord.
O let me then His strange love still admire ;Kings pardon, but He bore our punishment ; This is where the transition of the theme in the sonnet occurs, from one of lamentation and devastation to one of hope. This is essentially the double significance of the Crucifixion, that although Jesus suffered immensely and died and this was cause for mourning, there is also hope in that with His death came redemption, a feat that we could not have made happen if left on our own. The “strange love” to which Donne is referring is God’s unconditional love, which we in our human capacity cannot fathom; as St. Paul in Ephesians 3 quotes “…love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge”. It was because of this love for humanity that God “gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him might have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Therefore this makes us humans, again, even more heinous than the Jews themselves who crucified Jesus, in that not only do we still “crucify Him daily” as Donne laments in the previous line, but we also continually test this love.
Fig. 1. The Crucifixion as a symbol of sadness and of hope St. Bonaventure referred to the crucifixion as a symbol of sadness and of hope, in particular, the cross as a symbol of our salvation. Again we see the parallels here with suffering and melancholy, but joyous suffering in terms of Christianity, as with Donne, as quoted by Julia Kristeva previously.
And Jacob came clothed in vile harsh attire,But to supplant, and with gainful intent ;God clothed Himself in vile man's flesh, that soHe might be weak enough to suffer woe. Fig 2.Jesus, fully divine “disguised” as a human, suffering Fig. 3 Jacob, son of Isaac, disguised with goat skin, deceiving his father
In this passage, Donne is drawing a comparison between Jesus and Jacob, Son of Isaac. In the Bible, specifically Genesis 27:6 – 29, Isaac, who is the son of Abraham, fathered two sons, Esau and Jacob. Jacob, now an old man with deteriorating eyesight, summoned Esau his firstborn to bestow on him the rights of primogeniture. Rebekah, Jacob’s wife, overheard the conversation between the two and told Jacob, who was her favorite, to disguise under goat skins and pretend to be Esau (as Esau was extremely hairy) to receive Isaac’s blessing instead of Esau. This is where the parallel comes in, where Donne says “Jacob clothed in vile harsh attire…” versus “God clothed Himself in vile man’s flesh…” . As Albert Labriola, author of “’Vile Harsh Attire’”: Biblical Typology in John Donne’s ‘Spit in my face yeeJewes’” puts it perfectly, “Striving to prosper through fraudulent means, Jacob, wearing the skins of goats, degrades himself from the level of humankind to that of animals. Similarly, the Son, who will voluntarily undergo the punishment meted out to humankind, dons “vile harsh attire” degrading himself from the level of divinity to that of humanity.” He also states that the use of the word “vile”, which is defined as being contemptible, low or abominable, is used to describe how the two figures degrade themselves, in the way previously mentioned. Also note the use of the semi-colon to transition in this portion of the poem dealing with faith and hope. I think he uses the semicolon in this area because we are linking ideas of the same theme of hope and God's love. And he uses the semicolon between these lines to show the comparison and contrast between Jacob and Jesus. Both were similar in their disguises, but the purpose of their disguises were completely different.
HE MIGHT BE WEAK ENOUGH TO SUFFER WOE This also goes in conjunction with the analysis of Jacob the deceiver and Jesus, but more specifically now. Jacob was clothed in goats’ skins to disguise himself as his brother; Jesus was “clothed” as a human. The parallel here, with particular attention to this line is that goats were once used as sacrifices in the Old Testament of the Bible, as atonement for the sins of the people. Here Jesus has been made into a ‘goat’, in that He is now standing in place of the animal sacrifices so that by his bloodied flesh, His sacrifice, He is atoning for the sins of all the world. Moreover, because His sacrifice is a perfect sacrifice, humanity will no longer have to sacrifice animals in atonement. This is also interesting in that it gives an explanation for the term “Lamb of God” as one of the references to Jesus.
WORKS CITED Grant, Patrick. “Augustinian Spirituality and the Holy Sonnets of John Donne”. ELH, Vol. 38, No. 4, p. 542-561. Dec. 1971. Print. March 2, 2010. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2872265 Hahn, Thomas; “The Antecedents of Donne’s Holy Sonnet XI.” American Benedictine Review, 1979; 30: 69-79. Print. March 2, 2010. Labriola, Albert C., “ ‘Vile harsh attire: Biblical Typology in John Donne’s ‘Spit In My Face Yee Jewes’”. John Donne Journal: Studies in the Age of Donne, Vol. 22, p. 47-57. 2003. Print. March 2, 2010. Stachniewski, John. “John Donne: The Despair of the "Holy Sonnets"”. ELH, Vol. 48, No. 4,p.677-705.Winter 1981. Print. March 2, 2010. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2872957 Trevor, Douglas. “John Donne and Scholarly Melancholy”. Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 40, No. 1, p. 81-102 . Jan 01, 2000. Print. March 2, 2010. <http://www.accessmylibrary.com/article-1G1-61203971/john-donne-and scholarly.html