Study Guide

A Hymn to God the Father Themes

  • Sin

    Sin is everywhere in "A Hymn to God the Father." The speaker just can't seem to get away from it, poor fella. He's preoccupied with several types of sin: Original Sin, which every human is guilty of at birth because of Adam and Eve's transgression; the sin of leading others astray; the sins that the speaker at first resists and then gives into; and the sin of fear. Man, that's a whole lotta sinning.

    Questions About Sin

    1. Does the speaker plan to sin again, no matter what? How does this affect the poem's definition of sin?
    2. Is there a sin that the speaker considers to be worse than the other types of sin? How do you know? 
    3. How does Donne emphasize the theme of sin through his word choice and his form? 
    4. Why does the speaker think fear is a sin? Do you agree? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    The speaker feels guilty about events that happened before he was even born. No wonder he's so worried all the time.

    The speaker also believes that, as long as he has a relationship with God's son, he'll be forgiven of all his sins. So, he's got that going for him.

  • Compassion and Forgiveness

    Along with his preoccupation with sins, the speaker of "A Hymn to God the Father" is pretty concerned with whether God will forgive all those sins. The speaker is of Christian tradition, which means he believes God's son died for humankind's salvation, but he still questions whether God really will let him into Heaven. He even wonders if he'll be forgiven for doubting God, since that is a sin, too. The spiritual stress seems to be piling up in layers for this poor guy.

    Questions About Compassion and Forgiveness

    1. Does the speaker really believe he will be forgiven? If so, why does he question God so frequently?
    2. How does the speaker conclude that God's forgiveness works? Is there a moment in the poem where he comes to that conclusion? 
    3. Is the speaker trying to forgive himself, too? How can you tell?

    Chew on This

    Rather than ask for forgiveness each time, the speaker should just, you know, stop sinning.

    The speaker believes that, as long as he has the son of God in his life, he'll continue to be forgiven—sweet. The questions he's asking are not as important as the conclusion he reaches.

  • Fate and Free Will

    The speaker of "A Hymn to God the Father" believes that he can't help but sin, and that even before his birth he was already guilty. He asks God to forgive him, but he also tells God that there's more sin coming. It seems that mankind has no choice but to be sinful; they can only wind up in heaven if God intervenes. It sounds like he thinks our fate is pretty much decided before we are born. Um, yay?

    Questions About Fate and Free Will

    1. Is the speaker fated to be a sinner, or did he choose to sin? Where in the poem does he seem resigned to his fate as a sinner?
    2. How does the speaker demonstrate mankind's free will? 
    3. Whose actions does the speaker think determine our fate: ours or God's? How do you know?

    Chew on This

    The speaker briefly had enough willpower to resist some of his sins, but ultimately caved in. He seems to blame human nature rather than himself for this failure of will (what a cop-out).

    The speaker's salvation is entirely in God's hands. The poem shows how we puny humans are unable to determine our own fate.