07 April 2009

'Immensity Cloysterd In Thy Deare Wombe'—The Annunciation

Today, 25 March on the Church’s calendar, is the Feast of the Annunciation of the All-Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. Felix Culpa has posted part of Bulgakov’s enlightening explanation of this great Feast, as well as links to many other texts appropriate to today’s celebration. See also the interesting things compiled by the Catholics over at Fish Easters.

I will always remember celebrating Annunciation one year on the Holy Mountain, at Philotheou where today is their patronal feast. It is, to this day, the longest service I have ever attended in the Orthodox Church, beginning at 8 pm and ending at 8 am the next morning (I dozed off in one of the chapels sometime after communion).

Rather than attempting to say anything profound about such a great Mystery as the conception of our Lord, I give you, simply, the second of John Donne’s ‘Holy Sonnets’—‘Annunciation’ (from Herbert J.C. Grierson, ed., The Poems of John Donne, Vol. I: The Text of the Poems With Appendixes [London: Oxford U, 1966], p. 319):

Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which alwayes is All every where,
Which cannot sinne, and yet all sinnes must beare,
Which cannot die, yet cannot chuse but die,
Loe, faithfull Virgin, yeelds himselfe to lye
In prison, in thy wombe; and though he there
Can take no sinne, nor thou give, yet he’will weare
Taken from thence, flesh, which deaths force may trie.
Ere by the spheares time was created, thou
Wast in his minde, who is thy Sonne, and Brother;
Whom thou conciev’st, conceiv’d; yea thou art now
Thy Makers maker, and thy Fathers mother;
Thou’hast light in darke; and shutst in little roome,
Immensity cloysterd in thy deare wombe.

It seems to me that this has something of the Orthodox hymnographers' feel for paradox and the iconographic, and indeed, Helen Gardner has observed (in 'The Religious Poetry of John Donne', John Donne: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Helen Gardner [Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1962], p. 124):

The 'La Corona' sonnets are inspired by liturgical prayer and praise—oral prayer; not by private meditation and the tradition of mental prayer. They echo the langage of collects and office hymns, which expound the doctrines of the Catholic Faith, recalling the events from which those doctrines are derived, but not attempting to picture them in detail. Instead of the scene of the maiden alone in her room at Nazareth, there is a theological paradox: 'Thy Makers maker, and thy Fathers mother.'


Anonymous said...

A blessed Feast of the Annunciation, from a fan of Donne's work. I like to read, pray even, the religious ones on certain feasts.

Aaron Taylor said...

Thank you, Ian! I'm glad you appreciated this.