Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward

Original Text: 
J. D., Poems (London: M. F. for John Marriot, 1633).
2The intelligence that moves, devotion is,
3And as the other Spheares, by being growne
4Subject to forraigne motion, lose their owne,
5And being by others hurried every day,
6Scarce in a yeare their naturall forme obey:
7Pleasure or businesse, so, our Soules admit
9Hence is't, that I am carryed towards the West
10This day, when my Soules forme bends toward the East.
12And by that setting endlesse day beget;
13But that Christ on this Crosse, did rise and fall,
15Yet dare I'almost be glad, I do not see
16That spectacle of too much weight for mee.
18What a death were it then to see God dye?
26The seat of all our Soules, if not of his,
27Made durt of dust, or that flesh which was worne
28By God, for his apparell, rag'd, and torne?
29If on these things I durst not looke, durst I
31Who was Gods partner here, and furnish'd thus
32Halfe of that Sacrifice, which ransom'd us?
33Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,
34They'are present yet unto my memory,
35For that looks towards them; and thou look'st towards mee,
37I turne my backe to thee, but to receive
39O thinke mee worth thine anger, punish mee,
40Burne off my rusts, and my deformity,
42That thou may'st know mee, and I'll turne my face.


1] Good Friday: the Friday before Easter Sunday, a moveable feast in the Christian church commemorating Christ's death on the cross. In 1613, Good Friday was on April 2 (Handbook of Dates for Students of English History, ed. C. R. Cheney [London: Royal Historical Society, 1970).
Each planet or sphere was thought to hold an angelic intelligence by which it moved in a perfect motion, a circle, in worship of God, but because planetary orbits took an elliptical form, they failed to obey this "natural form." Astronomers tried to save appearances by proposing that the fixed stars (the planets) moved in complicated circular motions as they orbited. Apparent irregularities were explained as eccentric circles within circles. Back to Line
8] first mover: primum mobile, the tenth sphere beyondthe nine planets that communicated the circular motion to them; also a term for God, the source of all perfection. whirl'd: possibly punning on "world." Back to Line
11] a Sunne: Christ, son of God, died or "set" by rising on the cross. Back to Line
14] benighted: put into darkness; also perhaps quibbling on "be-knighted," that is, made a knight by the lifting and letting fall of a sword on the shoulders of a squire. Back to Line
17] God warned Moses that no man could see His face and live (Exodus 33.20). In 1 Corinthians 13:12, the Paul describes the end of the world: "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood." Back to Line
19] Lieutenant: chief ruler and law-giver, deputized by a higher authority to control a region. Back to Line
20] The earth, God's "footstoole," suffered an earthquake, and the sun endured an eclipse, at Christ's death on the cross. Back to Line
21] Donne alludes to the prophecy of Zechariah: "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a new-born" (12:10). At John 19:34-37, Christ's crucifixion is said to fulfil this prophecy: "But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.... For these things took place that the scripture might be fulfilled.... And again another scripture says, `They shall look on him whom they have pierced.'" See A. B. Chambers, "`Goodfriday, 1613. Riding Westward': Looking Back," John Donne Journal 6.2 (1987): 185-201. Back to Line
22] tune: the music of the spheres was thought to be "tuned" by God. pierc'd: a past participle mainly modifying "those hands" (21), but placed ambiguously so that it might also characterize Donne himself ("I" at line 21) and the spheres just preceding it, both of whom would have suffered (been pierced) by the sight of Christ crucified. Donne uses the same effect in locating the past participle "ragg'd" later (28), where it applies equally to Christ's flesh and apparell. Back to Line
23] height: the elevation of a heavenly body above the horizon. Back to Line
24] Zenith: the point directly vertical to anyone standing on the earth.
Antipodes: the point directly below the zenith on the other side of the earth. Back to Line
25] that blood: when drinking the communion wine, Christians partake literally or figuratively of Christ's blood, which redeems them from the power of hell and so provides their souls a "seat" in heaven. God's blood serves no such purpose for himself. Back to Line
30] miserable: pitiable. Back to Line
36] tree: cross. Back to Line
38] leave: leave off, stop (administering a whipping to the back). Back to Line
41] God made man in his image (Genesis 1.27). Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1999.