‘His sermons are filled with a humour born of setback and humility.’

A poet in a time of plague, John Donne was also preaching at St Paul’s. Dana Littlepage Smith on an icon of the Elizabethan age

Portrait of John Donn. | Photo: By unknown artist, circa 1595.

With the simple and deep gift of time in my hands – time in our garden – I find myself dipping into John Donne’s sermons.

It feels right. He was writing them in a time of plague and he was a man who consistently believed in mercy, in prayer and in praise.

The sermons remind me of the practice of gratitude. In these days of pandemic I’ve begun to keep a jar in which I can place a scribbled note of each day’s mercy – cutting my husband’s hair, say, a first in our long marriage, thankful that he doesn’t ask for a mirror to see the back, and allowing the white tufts to drift off on a wind, hopeful they might be knit into a blackbird’s nest. In a radically changed and changing world, thankfulness and mercy can be touchstones, just as they were for this dean of St Paul’s, writing nearly four hundred years ago.

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