Oh My Black Soule by John Donne (Poetry Reading)

July 8, 2020


This powerful near-deathbed poem by John Donne is read by Duncan McGibbon, Poetry Convenor for the BRLSI. The poem (in Petrarchian sonnet form) was published in 1633, two years after Donne’s death and written during a period in which severe illness had forced him to contemplate his own end. “Oh My Black Soule” contains elements of the sacred and is notable for its use of colour imagery. Oh my blacke soule! now thou art summoned By sicknesse, death’s herald, and champion; Thou art like a pilgrim, which abroad hath done Treason and durst not turne to whence hee is fled, Or like a thiefe, which till deaths doome be read, wisheth himselfe delivered from prison; But damn’d and hal’d to execution Wisheth that still he might be imprisoned; Yet grace, if thou repent, thou canst not lacke; But who shall give that grace to beginne? Oh make thyselfe with holy mourning blacke, And red with blushing, as thou art with sinne; Or wash me in Christ’s blood, which hath this might That being red it dyes red soules to white.

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