Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun, Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Solemn much? Right away, we notice the "Wilt thou," which makes this seem like it's going to be an old-fashioned poem for sure.
Don't freak out, Shmoopers. Does "old-fashioned" have to mean "boring?" Not necessarily, especially when it involves lots of fun stuff like sinning, judgment, and eternal damnation.
The "thou" is God, and the speaker is wondering if God can forgive the sin of being born a human.
What? That doesn't make sense, does it? How is being born a sin? Babies didn't do anything wrong.
Well… it does make sense if you consider the concept of Original Sin, which is part of the doctrine of some Christian traditions. In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, Adam and Eve ate some fruit that God had very specifically told them not to eat. This was the first sin, hence the title "Original Sin."
The speaker is claiming the sin as his own, even though he (and we're just assuming the speaker's a he at this point) didn't actually do it. He's asking God to forgive him for the sin he didn't do, but is still guilty of because, you know, he's a human.
Notice the particular rhythm going on here? Donne was doing plenty of work behind the scenes to give the poem a musical feel (it is a hymn, after all). Check out the "Form and Meter" guide for more, and keep your eyes peeled for more rhythm throughout the poem.
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run, And do run still, though still I do deplore?
Now the speaker is breaking out some figurative language to let us know that he's running through the sin (sounds pretty intense).
Basically, he's unable to stop being human, so the sin keeps repeating itself (just like the poem does).
He still wants to know if God will forgive him. (Hmm. It looks like this might be a repeating theme of the poem, Shmoopers.)
And he's saying that he'll keep sinning, even though he disapproves of the sin. He can't help it, gang; he's only human after all.
Notice anything else about these first four lines? We bet you did if you were reading them out loud. That's because lines 1 and 3 rhyme ("begun" and "run"), as do lines 2 and 4 ("before" and "deplore"). Check out "Form and Meter" for more on the rhymes going on here.
When thou hast done, thou hast not done, For I have more.
Whoa, hold everything now. We have a change in the rhyme scheme. Again, see the "Form and Meter" section for more. For now, let's get back to the content…
When God's done with all the forgiving, guess what? He isn't really done. The speaker is planning to sin some more. (Ain't he just the worst?)
He seems helpless to stop his own sin, actually. And, well, that's what Original Sin is all about; it's the idea that we can't stop our sinful human nature. No matter what we do, we're always guilty; we've basically been tainted by Adam and Eve's actions. (Way to go, guys.)
Notice how these two lines are indented even farther back than the four lines before them. Is the spacing just meant to look cool, or does it make you pause a little before certain lines? Does it add a sense of rhythm?
As you continue on, consider how Donne's spacing and line breaks affect your reading of the poem.