With Good Friday here again, a bit early this year, I once more read John Donne's "Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward." How nice to again turn the pages of my Norton Anthology of English Literature, from Beowulf to Chaucer, Sydney, Spenser, Marlowe and Shakespeare to Donne, leading the 17th century.
The reading has special significance this year when I see I have reached the 400th anniversary of the ride described in the poem. Yet Donne's language, the glow of his mind, remain fresh and vital.
While still bound by pre-Copernian cosmology, Donne's outlook seems close to ours with its emphasis on business and self-improvement. The poet is a man on horseback, but he could just as well be on a plane. The key, unchanging element is the promise of redemption, a faith in a self that transcends daily busyness. As with all great poems, "Riding Westward" contains a mystery, a presence, beyond its words. Each year I read its lines, It's like for the first time.