A Hymn to God the Father Critical Appreciation
A Hymn to God the Father is perhaps the most popular of Donne’s Divine poems. It was written in 1623 when he was seriously ill. It was later set to music and sung by the choir of St Paul’s Cathedral. He loved to hear it sung as did the parishners. Thus it became the most familiar poem of Donne
Donne was at once a great love poet and a divine poet. His love poems correspond roughly to his early life and the divine poems to his later life. In his youth he flirted with ladies and had innumerable amorous pranks Later he was reformed and became an Anglican clergy-man in 1615. We may consider his divine poems as the conscientious work of Donne, the priest
The poem, as we saw, was written in 1623, eight years after his ordination as an Anglican clergyman. Now he recalls his sinful days how he committed several sins and enticed others to sin. Above all he had the great sin of despair. But finally he realizes the mercy of God and has firm faith that he will be forgiven by God and his son. It is notable that after the publication of this poem he did not any longer compose poems. He rather concentrated on his priestly duties-praying and preaching.
In the first two stanzas Donne recalls his various sins. First of all he mentions the original sin into which he was born. It was the sin of our first parents Adam and Eve according to Christian belief. Then he refers to the innumerable sins he has gone on committing.
In the second stanza he further elaborates on his own sins. He not only sins but sins by enticing others to sin. Further even after shunning a sin for a few years, he again falls into it and wallows in it for several years.
This state of affairs makes him lose his faith in the mercy of God. He fears that God may not forgive his sins and that he is going to be damned. Thus in the final stanza he refers to this sin of despair and fear of his damnation. But soon he gets over it. He realizes the mercy of God and firmly believes that God’s grace will shine upon him at his death and he will be saved. So ends the poem with a changed refrain:
“And having done that, Thou hast done,
I feare no more.”
His past life might be full of sins. But now he sees the light of God’s mercy and is assured of his salvation. This is the real God-man relationship. He passes from darkness to light. Sin and death make room for the brightness of God’s sun of mercy. Thus the poem which opens with a note of questioning and doubt ends in a note of hope and belief. The poem shows Donne’s spiritual torture over his past innumerable sins.
The verse form is simple with the rhyme scheme a ba ba b. The emphasis is on the short last line of each verse:
“For I have more”
The style as we notice is direct and conversational. We come across the first person ‘I’ and ‘my’ very often. The poet tells God about his sins and gets or realizes God’s answer to him. There is the pun on his own name which is the crux of each stanza. Thus he deftly uses his wit even in an usually strong affirmation of his faith.
Trevor James in his study of the Metaphysical Poets comments on this poem thus:
“While similar to other Hymns in its wit, personal address and subject, this poem is lyrical rather than meditative; the control over language and technique is assured. The well known pun upon the poet’s name is a poignant touch but is also an organising principle for the whole poem as the repetitions in the refrain prepare us for its dramatic personal closure Through its dramatic tension between the refrain “thou hast not done” which is the foil for the triumphant conclusion (echoing the last words of Christ on the cross) ‘It is done’, the poem is a moving display of Donne’s intellectual and imaginative agility”