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"Enormous greatnesses"

John Donne is at his most densely metaphysical in the first lines of his "Elegy upon the untimely death of the incomparable Prince Henry." The eldest son of James I, the Prince died at the age of eighteen, disappointing the hopes of those who had foreseen him as a patron of the arts and hero of the Protestant cause. I dont believe Ive ever seen the relationship between faith and reason put so strikingly.Look to me, faith, and look to my faith, God;For both my centres feel this period.Of weight one centre, one of greatness is;And reason is that centre, faith is this;For into our reason flow, and there do end,All that this natural world doth comprehend:Quotidian things and equidistant hence,Shut in, for man, in one circumference.But for th' enormous greatnesses which areSo disproportioned and so angular,As is God's essence, place, and providence,Where, how, when, what souls do, departed hence,These things (eccentric else) on faith do strike;Yet neither all, nor upon all, alike.For reason, put to her best extension,Almost meets faith and makes both centres one;And nothing ever came so near to thisAs contemplation of that Prince we miss;For all that Faith might credit mankind could,Reason still seconded that this prince would.And heres a site with an article that relates Donnes epistemology to those of Augustine and Aquinas.

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Thank you, Joseph Komonchak for these lines of John Donne and the reference to Margaret Oakley. A retreat scheduled for this weekend was postponed, as so many in years gone by. Those retreats from retreats left great gaps -- lacunae, to use a word the internet pictures as a "a hole, empty space, pond, pool, deficiency, loss" [http://www.online-dictionary.biz/latin/english/meaning/lacuna]. That is what skipping retreats year after year after year leaves: holes in the soul. The few made are memorable in their rarity. This one approaching was to be a return to an essential part of Jesuit spirituality, but my absence won't leave a hole this time, I'm sure. Let me share today's moment of gratitude which helps fill holes. On reading Komonchaks thoughtful sharing of John Donne in dotCommonweal, my mind went straight back to 12 years of college and Jesuit life begun 65 years ago. Mind and heart were molded in such a way they are still functioning, even with lacunae. The line that struck me was not Donnes, but Komonchaks when he mentioned epistemology, a course I once taught in younger days and am at last beginning to grasp in these older ones. Other readers should make sure to follow the suggestion for Margaret Oakleys article relating Donnes epistemology to those of Augustine and Aquinas at : http://www2.unca.edu/postscript/postscript18/ps18.1.pdf.

A very minor point, but I think "seconded" in the last line reads better rhythmically with the accent on the middle syllable.

Yes, I think that is correct. Donne often played with pronunciations that way.

Fr. Komanchak,You post motivated me to once again read all of Donne's Holy Sonnets.Here is a nice one...HOLY SONNETS.XIV.Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for youAs yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bendYour force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,But am betroth'd unto your enemy ;Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,Take me to you, imprison me, for I,Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------Source:Donne, John. Poems of John Donne. vol I.E. K. Chambers, ed.London: Lawrence & Bullen, 1896. 165.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Yes, one of the great poems in all of English literature.

Could we have a translation?

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.