Separation from the God Who is Love

This is a lover’s lament by John Donne called “The Computation”

For the first twenty years, since yesterday,
I scarce believed, thou couldst be gone away,
For forty more, I fed on favours past,
And forty on hope, that thou wouldst, they might last.
Tears drowned one hundred, and sighs blew out two,
A thousand, I did neither think, nor do,
Or not divide, all being one thought of you;
Or in a thousand more, forgot that too.
Yet call not this long life; but think that I
Am, by being dead, immortal; can ghosts die?

Okay. This poem rips me apart in the last line. What exactly is going on? Is this a soul in hell, described with timeless sorrow that seems an eternity but is only eternal death? It seems like a normal lover’s lament when he says that the time is indivisible “all being one thought of you” but the last line jars me from thinking this a normal lover’s lament and leads me to think this is a sorrowful soul in the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Who is the poem written to really? God? Is this a person who loves God in Hell after death? Help me out here people! Why the last line?

  1. Will, I’m stalking your old blog posts because I was mining for that Yom Kippur piece. I found it, but here’s a comment for this one:

    I think (and perhaps I’m being too isogetical here) that this poem could be written as Jesus’s pleas from Sheol, if we’ll go there. The poem is about a person’s inability to think of another’s absence, until recently. The line: “For forty more [years], I fed on favours past” smacks of the wanderings in the wilderness + manna + forty days of Jesus’s testing/fasting. The feelings of eternal love, lasting thousands of years, are divine.

    I don’t know what to do about the speaker’s forgetting aspect.

    The last lines jar me also, but possibly for different reasons:

    “Yet call this not life; but think that I AM, by being dead, immortal; can ghosts die?” (anti-line-break mine and capitalization intentional)

    I read this as a play on words, cleverly cut to fit on different lines, but I could be wrong.

    Dante portrays the Christ as utterly forsaken of Love, feeling forlorn yet bearing death.

    • Will Sprague
    • January 29th, 2012

    Well, as far as the line-breaks are concerned, they are in the original text, so intentional and I would be a little wary of thinking this was Jesus because of the phrase “by being dead, immortal” would place a little too much hopelessness in the love that Christ has in Sheol. I am not sure how to take the poem, and as a lament of Christ in the grave seems a bit far fetched, but if you teased it out I might be convinced!

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