Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, by John Donne

XV. Interea insomnes noctes ego duco, diesque.

I sleep not day nor night.

XV. Meditation.

Natural men have conceived a twofold use of sleep; that it is a refreshing of the body in this life; that it is a preparing of the soul for the next; that it is a feast, and it is the grace at that feast; that it is our recreation and cheers us, and it is our catechism and instructs us; we lie down in a hope that we shall rise the stronger, and we lie down in a knowledge that we may rise no more. Sleep is an opiate which gives us rest, but such an opiate, as perchance, being under it, we shall wake no more. But though natural men, who have induced secondary and figurative considerations, have found out this second, this emblematical use of sleep, that it should be a representation of death, God, who wrought and perfected his work before nature began (for nature was but his apprentice, to learn in the first seven days, and now is his foreman, and works next under him), God, I say, intended sleep only for the refreshing of man by bodily rest, and not for a figure of death, for he intended not death itself then. But man having induced death upon himself, God hath taken man’s creature, death, into his hand, and mended it; and whereas it hath in itself a fearful form and aspect, so that man is afraid of his own creature, God presents it to him in a familiar, in an assiduous, in an agreeable and acceptable form, in sleep; that so when he awakes from sleep, and says to himself, “Shall I be no otherwise when I am dead, than I was even now when I was asleep?” he may be ashamed of his waking dreams, and of his melancholy fancying out a horrid and an affrightful figure of that death which is so like sleep. As then we need sleep to live out our threescore and ten years, so we need death to live that life which we cannot outlive. And as death being our enemy, God allows us to defend ourselves against it (for we victual ourselves against death twice every day), as often as we eat, so God having so sweetened death unto us as he hath in sleep, we put ourselves into our enemy’s hands once every day, so far as sleep is death; and sleep is as much death as meat is life. This then is the misery of my sickness, that death, as it is produced from me and is mine own creature, is now before mine eyes, but in that form in which God hath mollified it to us, and made it acceptable, in sleep I cannot see it. How many prisoners, who have even hollowed themselves their graves upon that earth on which they have lain long under heavy fetters, yet at this hour are asleep, though they be yet working upon their own graves by their own weight? He that hath seen his friend die to-day, or knows he shall see it to-morrow, yet will sink into a sleep between. I cannot, and oh, if I be entering now into eternity, where there shall be no more distinction of hours, why is it all my business now to tell clocks? Why is none of the heaviness of my heart dispensed into mine eye-lids, that they might fall as my heart doth? And why, since I have lost my delight in all objects, cannot I discontinue the faculty of seeing them by closing mine eyes in sleep? But why rather, being entering into that presence where I shall wake continually and never sleep more, do I not interpret my continual waking here, to be a parasceve and a preparation to that?

XV. Expostulation.

My God, my God, I know (for thou hast said it) that he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep:214 but shall not that Israel, over whom thou watchest, sleep? I know (for thou hast said it) that there are men whose damnation sleepeth not;215 but shall not they to whom thou art salvation sleep? or wilt thou take from them that evidence, and that testimony that they are thy Israel, or thou their salvation? Thou givest thy beloved sleep:216 shall I lack that seal of thy love? You shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid:217 shall I be outlawed from that protection? Jonah slept in one dangerous storm,218 and thy blessed Son in another;219 shall I have no use, no benefit, no application of those great examples? Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well,220 say thy Son’s disciples to him of Lazarus; and shall there be no room for that argument in me? or shall I be open to the contrary? If I sleep not, shall I not be well in their sense? Let me not, O my God, take this too precisely, too literally; There is that neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes,221 says thy wise servant Solomon; and whether he speak that of worldly men, or of men that seek wisdom, whether in justification or condemnation of their watchfulness, we cannot tell: we can tell that there are men that cannot sleep till they have done mischief,222 and then they can; and we can tell that the rich man cannot sleep, because his abundance will not let him.223 The tares were sown when the husbandmen were asleep224; and the elders thought it a probable excuse, a credible lie, that the watchmen which kept the sepulchre should say, that the body of thy Son was stolen away when they were asleep.225 Since thy blessed Son rebuked his disciples for sleeping, shall I murmur because I do not sleep? If Samson had slept any longer in Gaza, he had been taken;226 and when he did sleep longer with Delilah,227 he was taken. Sleep is as often taken for natural death in thy Scriptures, as for natural rest. Nay, sometimes sleep hath so heavy a sense, as to be taken for sin itself,228 as well as for the punishment of sin, death.229 Much comfort is not in much sleep, when the most fearful and most irrevocable malediction is presented by thee in a perpetual sleep. I will make their feasts, and I will make them drunk, and they shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake.230 I must therefore, O my God, look farther than into the very act of sleeping before I misinterpret my waking; for since I find thy whole hand light, shall any finger of that hand seem heavy? Since the whole sickness is thy physic, shall any accident in it be my poison by my murmuring? The name of watchmen belongs to our profession; thy prophets are not only seers, endued with a power of seeing, able to see, but watchmen evermore in the act of seeing. And therefore give me leave, O my blessed God, to invert the words of thy Son’s spouse: she said, I sleep, but my heart waketh;231 I say, I wake, but my heart sleepeth: my body is in a sick weariness, but my soul in a peaceful rest with thee; and as our eyes in our health see not the air that is next them, nor the fire, nor the spheres, nor stop upon any thing till they come to stars, so my eyes that are open, see nothing of this world, but pass through all that, and fix themselves upon thy peace, and joy, and glory above. Almost as soon as thy apostle had said, Let us not sleep,232 lest we should be too much discomforted if we did, he says again, Whether we wake or sleep, let us live together with Christ.233 Though then this absence of sleep may argue the presence of death (the original may exclude the copy, the life the picture), yet this gentle sleep and rest of my soul betroths me to thee, to whom I shall be married indissolubly, though by this way of dissolution.[Pg 101]

XV. Prayer.

O eternal and most gracious God, who art able to make, and dost make, the sick bed of thy servants chapels of ease to them, and the dreams of thy servants prayers and meditations upon thee, let not this continual watchfulness of mine, this inability to sleep, which thou hast laid upon me, be any disquiet or discomfort to me, but rather an argument, that thou wouldst not have me sleep in thy presence. What it may indicate or signify concerning the state of my body, let them consider to whom that consideration belongs; do thou, who only art the Physician of my soul, tell her, that thou wilt afford her such defensatives, as that she shall wake ever towards thee, and yet ever sleep in thee, and that, through all this sickness, thou wilt either preserve mine understanding from all decays and distractions which these watchings might occasion, or that thou wilt reckon and account with me from before those violences, and not call any piece of my sickness a sin. It is a heavy and indelible sin that I brought into the world with me; it is a heavy and innumerable multitude of sins which I have heaped up since; I have sinned behind thy back (if that can be done), by wilful abstaining from thy congregations and omitting thy service, and I have sinned before thy face, in my hypocrisies in prayer, in my ostentation, and the mingling a respect of myself in preaching thy word; I have sinned in my fasting, by repining when a penurious fortune hath kept me low; and I have sinned even in that fulness, when I have been at thy table, by a negligent examination, by a wilful prevarication, in receiving that heavenly food and physic. But as I know, O my gracious God, that for all those sins committed since, yet thou wilt consider me, as I was in thy purpose when thou wrotest my name in the book of life in mine election; so into what deviations soever I stray and wander by occasion of this sickness, O God, return thou to that minute wherein thou wast pleased with me and consider me in that condition.

213 Matt. xxviii. 20.

214 Psalm cxxi. 4.

215 2 Pet. ii. 3.

216 Psalm cxxvii. 2.

217 Lev. xxvi. 6.

218 Jonah, i. 5.

219 Matt. viii. 24.

220 John, xi. 12.

221 Eccles. viii. 16.

222 Prov. iv. 16.

223 Eccles. v. 12.

224 Matt. xiii. 25; xxviii. 13.

225 Matt. xxvi. 40.

226 Judges, xvi. 3.

227 Judges, xvi. 19.

228 Eph. v. 14.

229 1 Thes. v. 6.

230 Jer. li. 57.

231 Cant. v. 2.

232 1 Thes. v. 6.

233 1 Thes. v. 10.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37