Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
 
Death
By John Donne (1572–1631)
 
From Donne’s Last Sermon

NOW this which is so singularly peculiar to him, that His flesh should not see corruption, at His second coming, His coming to judgment, shall be extended to all that are then alive, their flesh shall not see corruption; because (as the apostle says, and says as a secret, as a mystery, Behold I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep) that is, not continue in the state of the dead, in the grave; but we shall all be changed. In an instant we shall have a dissolution, and in the same instant a redintegration, a recompacting of body and soul; and that shall be truly a death, and truly a resurrection, but no sleeping, no corruption. But for us, who die now, and sleep in the state of the dead, we must all pass this posthume death, this death after death, nay this death after burial, this dissolution after dissolution, this death of corruption and putrefaction, of vermiculation and incineration, of dissolution and dispersion, in, and from the grave. When those bodies which have been the children of royal parents, and the parents of royal children, must say with Job, To corruption, Thou art my father, and to the worm, Thou art my mother and my sister. Miserable riddle, when the same worm must be my mother, and my sister, and myself. Miserable incest, when I must be married to mine own mother and sister, and be both father and mother, to mine own mother and sister, beget and bear that worm, which is all that miserable penury, when my mouth shall be filled with dust, and the worm shall feed, and feed sweetly upon me. When the ambitious man shall have no satisfaction if the poorest alive read upon him, nor the poorest receive any contentment, in being made equal to princes, for they shall be equal but in dust. One dieth at his full strength, being wholly at ease, and in quiet, and another dies in the bitterness of his soul, and never eats with pleasure; but they lie down alike in the dust, and the worm covers them. The worm covers them in Job, and in Esay, it covers them, and is spread under them, (the worm is spread under thee, and the worm covers thee). There is the mats and the carpet that lie under; and there is the state and the canopy that hangs over the greatest sons of men. Even those bodies that were the temples of the Holy Ghost, come to this dilapidation, to ruin, to rubbish, to dust: even the Israel of the Lord, and Jacob himself had no other specification, no other denomination but that, Vermis Jacob, Thou worm Jacob. Truly, the consideration of this posthume death, this death after burial, that after God, with whom are the issues of death, hath delivered me from the death of the womb, by bringing me into the world, and from the manifold deaths of the world, by laying me in the grave, I must die again, in an incineration of this flesh, and in a dispersion of that dust; that all that monarch that spread over many nations alive, must in his dust lie in a corner of that sheet of lead, and there but so long as the lead will last: and that private and retired man, that thought himself his own for ever, and never came forth, must in his dust of the grave be published, and (such are the revolutions of graves) be mingled in his dust, with the dust of every highway, and of every dunghill, and swallowed in every puddle and pond; this is the most inglorious and contemptible vilification, the most deadly and peremptory nullification of man, that we can consider. God seems to have carried the declaration of His power to a great height, when He sets the prophet Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones, and says, Son of man, can these bones live? as though it had been impossible; and yet they did; the Lord laid sinews upon them, and flesh, and breathed into them, and they did live. But in that case there were bones to be seen: something visible, of which it might be said, Can this, this live? but in this death of incineration and dispersion of dust, we see nothing that we can call that man’s. If we say, Can this dust live? perchance it cannot. It may be the mere dust of the earth which never did live, nor shall; it may be the dust of that man’s worms which did live, but shall no more; it may be the dust of another man that concerns not him of whom it is asked. This death of incineration and dispersion is to natural reason the most irrevocable death of all; and yet Domini Domini sunt exitus mortis, Unto God the Lord belong the issues of death, and by recompacting this dust into the same body, and reanimating the same body with the same soul, He shall in a blessed and glorious resurrection give me such an issue from this death, as shall never pass into any other death, but establish me in a life, that shall last as long as the Lord of life himself.
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