John Donne

Helen Gardner (ed.), John Donne: The Divine Poems (Second Edition)

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Editor’s Note
l. 2. my low devout melancholie. For the source of the reading 'lone' in 1635, see p. xc.
In general Donne regards melancholy as not conducive to true devotion, but as its enemy; see Letters, p. 45, where he declares of sadness that for it and wickedness 'the Italian allows but one word, Triste; And in full condemnation whereof it was prophesied of our blessed Saviour, Non erit tristis'. 'Low' may mean simply 'humble'; but Donne usually employs the word in a derogatory sense.
Critical Apparatus
1.3 treasury] a Treasury Dob, O'F;
Editor’s Note
l. 4. All changing unchang'd Antient of dayes. A name from Hebrew prophecy, 'the Ancient of Days'(Dan. vii), is combined with the philosophic conception of the Unmoved Mover. Cf. the hymn 'Rerum Deus tenax vigor', ascribed to St. Ambrose.
Critical Apparatus
9 ends crowne] end crownes Dob, O'F
ends] dayes Dob, O'F (b.c)
Editor’s Note
l. 9. The ends crowne our workes, but thou crown'st our ends. The fact that S (which elsewhere, except in 3. 7, reads with Group III) agrees with Groups I and II and W in reading 'our ends' suggests that 'our dayes' (Group III) may not be a true early reading, and we need not ascribe to Donne's first version the carelessness of rhyming the eighth and ninth lines and leaving the twelfth unrhymed. It is difficult to account for 'dayes' as a scribal error for 'ends', and 'End crownes' (Group III) looks at first sight like the original reading, since the proverbial saying is in the singular. But the currency of the proverb 'The end crowns all' may have led a scribe to substitute the singular for the plural, and 'dayes' might have been caught from l. 4.
The stress of the line falls on 'thou'. In the truism 'Finis coronat opus', 'crown' means 'completes worthily'; the other sense of the word is 'blesses or rewards'. Christ 'crowns our ends' ('erit Dominus … corona') in being himself our reward after death.
Critical Apparatus
10 For] Soe Dob, O'F (b.c), W
Critical Apparatus
10–11 begins … end, ] Omit H 49
Critical Apparatus
11 This TCD, Dob, O'F, W: The 1633, C 57, Gr
zealously] soberly Dob, O'F (b.c), W
Editor’s Note
ll. 11–12.
  • This first last end, now zealously possest,
  • With a strong sober thirst, my soule attends.
1633 follows Group I in reading 'The first', which has been abandoned for the more emphatic 'This' (Groups II, III, W). It refers back to the strongly stressed 'thou' of line 9. 'Soberly possest' (Group III, W) may well have stood in Donne's first version. The note of warning 'Be sober, be vigilant is so characteristic of Advent that the repetition 'soberly/sober' may not have seemed excessive.
'Possest' qualifies the soul, which is 'wholly occupied' by its thirst. 'This first last end' is the expected Saviour. Cf. Rev. i. 8 and 11: 'I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending'; 'I am … the first and the last.'
Critical Apparatus
13 heart and voice] voyce and hart Dob, O'F, W
Editor’s Note
l. 13. heart and voice. Group III (except B) and W read 'voice and heart'. If Donne had the Advent Offices in mind, it is natural that he should have thought of lifting up the voice and added 'heart' to fill his line. Cf. 'Clama in fortitudine … exalta in fortitudine vocem tuam (Wednesday in the third week). The order 'heart and voice' is more logical.
Critical Apparatus
14 nigh.] nigh, 1633
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