From John Donne, the great seventeenth-century lyric poet and Catholic-turned-Anglican churchman, we have this lovely poem on the mystery of the Incarnation. It comes near the beginning of his sonnet sequence La Corona , which takes key moments the story of Redemptionmysteries of the Rosaryand weaves them together into a “crown of prayer and praise.”
Dense with paradox, Donne’s Annunciation sonnet untangles theological truth while apparently tangling its language. Notice for instance, the artful play of “all that” and “That All” in the opening lines. In the first, all refers to us, and that to God (linking to the previous sonnet, “that will” of the “changing unchanged Ancient of days”). In the second line, That All signifies the ubiquitous, perfect God. Donne’s words gracefully and unexpectedly unite human and divine, and fittingly so, for the union of man and God is the essence of the Incarnate Word. Each phrase is similarly rich in this lyrical stanzaDonne’s little roombut I’ll leave the rest for the reader to enjoy:
Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo! faithful Virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He’ll wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son, and Brother;
Whom thou conceivest, conceived; yea, thou art now
Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother,
Thou hast light in dark, and shutt’st in little room
Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb.