John Donne: Holy Sonnets

About a year ago I approached several individuals and asked for their help in enlarging my depth, breadth, and understanding of poetry. Poets are wordsmiths.  And as one who must work continually with the written and spoken word, I have become increasingly aware of my need to be a wordsmith. Hence, my desire to know and love poets, and their writings.

One poet that I am coming to deeply appreciate is John Donne. John Donne’s religious poetry is collectively known as the Divine Poems.  Among these Divine Poems, the largest group is the nineteen Holy Sonnets.

Donne began writing his love poetry in the 1590s, while still single, and did not turn to religious poetry until 1609, eight years after he had married Anne More, which resulted in his banishment from the royal court.

Although not necessarily biographical in nature, the sonnets do reflect Donne’s meditation on his religious convictions, and address the themes of divine judgment, divine love, and humble penance. However, just as the persona of Donne’s love poems speaks with passion, and tenderness in praising his beloved, so the speaker in these sonnets turns to God in a very personal way, with a love that is passionate, and forceful; yet fearful, too.

So, I present to you John Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV.

Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you

As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend

Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,

Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,

But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,

But am betroth’d unto your enemy;

Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Except you enthrall me, shall never be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Which is just another way of saying Romans 7:4 – 6; Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.


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