A Modern Rendering of John Donne’s Devotions
In 2020, as the world entered a long dark night of the soul, I returned to a nearly 400-year-old manuscript for guidance. In it, I found a trustworthy companion for living through a pandemic ̶ or any other crisis. The words leaped out at me from the very first page of John Donne’s Devotions…nothing had prepared me for his raw account of confrontations with God.
Preacher and poet John Donne wrote Devotions in 1623, during a pandemic in his city of London. For a month he lay sick, hearing the church bell toll for others while wondering if his death would be next. From what he believed to be his death bed, the great poet wrote a triumph of literature that has given us such familiar phrases as “No man is an island…” and “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls…” I pared the descriptions of antiquated science and medicine, and streamlined Donne’s complicated syntax (one sentence alone had 234 words!). I believe this paraphrase of a great work has much to say to us today.
This new version of a classic work is arranged as a 30-day reader based on Donne’s meditations, with startling relevance as we face similar questions:
Undone combines Donne’s timeless reflections with present-day commentary, offering universal truths on how to live and die well. The heart of the project, and my motive for it, was to make Donne’s classic accessible to modern readers.
(Rabbit Room Press, 2023)
“Thanks so much for taking the time to do this paraphrase, thereby making Donne accessible to many of us who otherwise would not have had the time, patience, or inclination to seek him out.”
Dr. Jennifer Wiseman, Director, American Association for the Advancement of Science; NASA astrophysicist
“You have made Donne far more readable, without losing his voice. As you say, Donne’s reflections are tremendously relevant with our pandemic.”
Bob Fryling, Former publisher of IVPress
“In a world where so many consider the slightest offense an outrage, where a victim mentality pervades the culture, it’s refreshing to read how great men and women of God throughout history dealt with the greatest challenges one can imagine.”
Phil Cooke, Author, Media producer.
“What a wonderful book this is, as an enormous admirer of Donne’s verse and theological inclinations I am drawn to it anyway, but the insights from Yancey make this a very special book.”
Alan Mordue, Darton, Longman, and Todd; member of the Society of Biblical Literature.
“It’s amazing we have Donne’s words that he thought would be his last as he heard the sounds of death around him. To me, it’s a great service to make this accessible, for the vast majority of readers now would never get into it.”
Harold Myra, Author, Former CEO of Christianity Today
“Yancey writes, ‘In an act of either daring or folly, I decided to attempt a modern paraphrase of this classic work.’ How glad we can be that he did. … With Yancey’s adapting of phrases and trimming away of antiquated turns of expression, I’ve been able to grasp more surely the raw intensity of Donne’s prayers, the struggles and protests of his soul, and ultimately the radiant steadiness of the Renaissance cleric’s abiding faith.”
The Rev. Timothy Jones, Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church (VA) and author.