Holy Sonnet 19
by John Donne
Inconstancy unnaturally hath begot
A constant habit; that when I would not
I change in vows, and in devotion.
As humorous is my contrition
As my profane love, and as soon forgot:
As riddlingly distempered, cold and hot,
As praying, as mute; as infinite, as none.
I durst not view heaven yesterday; and today
In prayers and flattering speeches I court God:
Tomorrow I quake with true fear of his rod.
So my devout fits come and go away
Like a fantastic ague; save that here
Those are my best days, when I shake with fear.
I love this sonnet and I love John Donne. He captures a regretfully common theme in my own religious life namely, inconsistency. Yesterday I had no interest in God or heaven but today I am a model of devotion and intimate worship; tomorrow I will be terrified of Him. Donne compares our religious affections to an ague (fever) that comes and goes without obvious reasons; we are ‘riddlingly distempered, cold and hot.’ While I am sure that Donne aspired to a greater steadiness in his affection for Christ, I am glad that he preserved this reflection for us so that we would not feel alone in our inconstancy.For another of Donne’s poems (one decidedly more playful) read Elegy 20 To His Mistress Going to Bed.