A Hymn to God the Father

A Hymn to God the Father

Like Hymn to God, my God, in my Sicknesse, this was written fairly late in Donne's life. There is an alternative version of it entitled To Christ. It was reputedly set to music and sung to a solemn tune.

Done/Donne

Though dealing with a serious topic, one very important to Donne, the poem is also an extended play on words on the poet's name. So ‘done'/Donne must be seen as being pronounced in the same way. The poet is asking God's forgiveness for different types of sins, but feeling as if he will never finish confessing them all. This gives him a fear that when he dies, he will not have received God's forgiveness and will perish ‘on the shore', the point between life and death.

Original sin

The first sin mentioned is what is known as original sin.

More on original sin: Adam and Eve are portrayed in the Bible as the first human beings. They are shown disobeying God and, as a result, are expelled from the Garden of Eden at the Fall. This first or ‘original' sin was believed to have tainted their descendants, predisposing all human beings to disobey God's commandments and making it difficult for them to have a close relationship to him.

This original sin is referred to by Donne as ‘it were done before', and its continuance in himself by ‘I do run still'. He deplores it but cannot help it.The last two lines of the stanza act as a refrain. When God has done (forgiving), there will be more sins in the future to forgive, so God has not in fact done/finished (forgiving). Nor has he Donne (in the sense of possessing Donne's full allegiance), because Donne is still prone to disobey God as a result of his fallen nature and its bias to sin.

Past sins

In stanza two, Donne appears to be referring to particular sins, by which he also caused other people to sin. These may be spiritual or moral. It may be that he is having doubts about his abandonment of Catholicism or he may be thinking of some of his secular love poems and their frank sexuality.

A sin of fear

The final stanza deals with a particular sin, that of fear. Donne is so afraid of sin that he is now in danger of committing the very sin of fear, through doubting God's promises of mercy and grace. Interestingly, he does not use Christian imagery to express this struggle, but imagery drawn from pagan Greek belief in the Fates, the three blind goddesses supposed to determine the course of human life. One Fate spun, one wove, and one cut the thread – which was the moment of death.

Done!

Resolution comes through the narrator praying that God should swear by himself to allow his son Jesus to shine like the sun (another play on words as Jesus was called the ‘Son' of God) in mercy and righteousness Malachi 4:2

. If God does this, then he will have Donne and have done! As at the end of some of the Holy Sonnets (This is my Playes Last Scene and At the Round Earths Imagin'd Corners), Donne seems to be expecting a special response from God, although Christianity in fact teaches that God's mercy is extended to everyone who repents.

Investigating Hymn to God the Father
  • Does Donne's sense of sin seem to have grown with age?
    • Look at some of his early poems
    • Compare them with A Hymn to God the Father
  • Is this an over-dramatic re-enactment of guilt feelings or a quiet search for inner peace?
  • Where does the real power of the poem come from?

See Themes and significant ideas > Personal Sinfulness and Unworthiness

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