"Departing Wings." Linocut by Elizabeth Adams from Annunciation, Phoenicia Publishing 2015
It's rare for the Feast of the Annunciation and Good Friday to occur on the same day. In the 21st century this only happened in 2005 and 2016 and won't occur again for a century. When this happens, the Church usually separates the observances; the nnunciation will be celebrated later in April. However, John Donne pondered the convergence of these events in 1608, as I did yesterday during the long, solemn services, my awareness of the Annunciation and of Mary herself - young naive girl, and sorrowing mother - having been sharpened this year by the book project I completed in December. I always find it easier to read Donne's poetry out loud, and enjoyed doing that with this extraordinary poem that I had never read before, sent to me yesterday by a friend on Instagram.
Upon the Annunciation and
Passion Falling upon One Day.
John Donne, 1608
Tamely, frail body, abstain today; today
My soul eats twice, Christ hither and away.
She sees Him man, so like God made in this,
That of them both a circle emblem is,
Whose first and last concur; this doubtful day
Of feast or fast, Christ came and went away;
She sees Him nothing twice at once, who’s all;
She sees a Cedar plant itself and fall,
Her Maker put to making, and the head
Of life at once not yet alive yet dead;
She sees at once the virgin mother stay
Reclused at home, public at Golgotha;
Sad and rejoiced she’s seen at once, and seen
At almost fifty and at scarce fifteen;
At once a Son is promised her, and gone;
Gabriel gives Christ to her, He her to John;
Not fully a mother, she’s in orbity,
At once receiver and the legacy;
All this, and all between, this day hath shown,
The abridgement of Christ’s story, which makes one
(As in plain maps, the furthest west is east)
Of the Angels’ Ave and Consummatum est.
How well the Church, God’s court of faculties,
Deals in some times and seldom joining these!
As by the self-fixed Pole we never do
Direct our course, but the next star thereto,
Which shows where the other is and which we say
(Because it strays not far) doth never stray,
So God by His Church, nearest to Him, we know
And stand firm, if we by her motion go;
His Spirit, as His fiery pillar doth
Lead, and His Church, as cloud, to one end both.
This Church, by letting these days join, hath shown
Death and conception in mankind is one:
Or ‘twas in Him the same humility
That He would be a man and leave to be:
Or as creation He had made, as God,
With the last judgment but one period,
His imitating Spouse would join in one
Manhood’s extremes: He shall come, He is gone:
Or as though the least of His pains, deeds, or words,
Would busy a life, she all this day affords;
This treasure then, in gross, my soul uplay,
And in my life retail it every day.