Synopsis of Good Friday, 1613

Man on horseThe context of Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward is explained in the poem itself, unusually for Donne. He has been forced to ride out on some business matter on a Good Friday. Normally, he would have preferred to spend the day in quiet meditation on Christ's death, since in the Christian calendar, that is the day on which Christ was crucified. The day is fixed from the Jewish Feast of Passover, which would fall on the Sabbath (Saturday). The Gospel-accounts state that Jesus' crucifixion fell on the day before that Sabbath Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54. Special services would have been held in Anglican churches but the poet is unable to participate.

Moreover, he finds himself riding westward. This sense of geography is important, since the site of the crucifixion, Jerusalem, lies due east. He is thus riding directly away from the direction to which his mind would want to turn. In fact, he appears to be turning his back on it. But the back is the place where punishment occurs, in the sense of flogging or whipping, so in the end he sees it as appropriate. He deserves punishment for his sins.

A meditation

The poem thus does become a meditation, one done almost by default, yet the more powerful for that. It is a poem which grows in appeal. There is nothing immediately attractive about it, but the use of imagery and argument seems in the end so appropriate that it has to be reckoned as one of Donne's greatest religious poems.

Investigating Good Friday, 1613
  • At what stage in Donne's life was Good Friday, 1613 written?
    • What was the significance of Good Friday for him?
  • Have you ever had to go somewhere quite the opposite of where you really wanted to go?
    • Can you remember your feelings?
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