Poem Analysis: John Donne

661 words | 3 page(s)

‘Holy Sonnet XIV: Batter my heart, three-person’d God’
1. Donne’s ‘three-person’d God’ references the Holy Trinity, i.e., the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost of Christian orthodoxy. The paradox in the first few lines is the juxtaposition between the violent imagery, i.e., ‘batter,’ ‘knock,’ ‘break,’ ‘blow,’ ‘burn,’ etc., and the salvation such imagery implies. Standard orthodoxy teaches the pacifism of Christ and the ‘love thy neighbor’ idealism, which here seems to be inverted, making the Holy Trinity akin to a marauding force intent on violent harm.

2. Diction in this poem is profound. Donne’s evocative word choices imply harm to physical body, i.e., ‘Divorce me, untie or break that knot again’ (line 11), ‘Take me to you, imprison me’ (12), and ‘ravish me’ (14). ‘Break,’ ‘imprison,’ ‘ravish”these words all have negative and/or violent connotations to the physical form. Donne uses this diction to imply that he is willing to suffer all consequences of the physical body to reach a higher plane of spiritual salvation.

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3. The second comparison, ‘I, like an usurp’d town to another due’ (5), refers the speaker to a rebellious township in a larger province, with God as the ‘viceroy,’ or ruler, of that province, seeking to lay siege and quell the rebellion (i.e., a metaphor for Donne’s rebellious spirit). The reference to ‘reason’ implies the cognitive power God has given to man to choose (‘free will’); however, reason is weak, Donne implies, and is easily overcome by sins of passion.

4. The third comparison is as a man wedded to Satan; inverting the traditional holy vows taken before God, this speaker has ‘tied the knot’ with the devil, and he beseeches God to untie the knot so that his soul may be free to ascend to heaven. The paradox at the end, i.e., the negative connotations of ‘imprisonment’ shows that the speaker is willing to endure any physical harm for spiritual redemption. By being imprisoned by God, his spirit can conversely escape. The double meanings of ‘ravish’ reinforce this duality, as ravish can mean ‘rape’ or ‘captivate.’

‘Holy Sonnet X: Death, be not proud’
1. Essentially, the reference to ‘death, be not proud’ personifies death as having human qualities; the speaker implores death to abandon pride because it is not the final end that it claims. Instead, there is eternity beyond death, the speaker implies, achieved through salvation. The speaker makes the case that no matter death’s means of execution, i.e., ‘poppy,’ ‘poison,’ ‘war,’ ‘sickness,’ etc., heaven will always be only ‘one short sleep past’ (line 13).

2. The tone of the poem is more of outgoing confidence than trepidation, leading one to believe the speaker does believe in his claims; however, the last line ‘Death, thou shalt die’ makes the reader wonder if the speaker is all along trying to convince himself of his own point-of-view. The speaker tells death, ‘nor yet canst thou kill me’ (4), but this frank dialogue with death may belie the man’s actual fear underneath the surface. The speaker wants to be forthright and face off against death one-on-one, but the reader is never sure if this is false bravado or unflinching faith. Taken in context with the previous poem above, where the speaker is continually wracked by sin, the reader assumes that his bluster may be a cover for his fear.

3. Figures of speech used are personification and metaphor. The speaker attributes human sinful qualities, such as pride, to an inanimate state of being (death). Donne uses a continual metaphor of death being actually a lowly state, since it is a ‘slave to fate’ (9) and relies on chance and whim to do its work.

4. Donne uses the Petrarchan sonnet form to provide a kind of dialogue with death. The break between the first eight-line octave and the final six-line sestet marks a shift in the poem from a speculative tone to a more aggressive attack by the speaker to end the sonnet.

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