Monday, May 24, 2010

HOLY SONNETS. XIV. - Batter My Heart By John Donne

Batter My Heart

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, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

The poet uses unconventional (unusual) imagery (not the usual imagery used for God-man relationships) in each of the three quatrains to ask God passionately to reclaim him back from his life of sin to a life with God. The main idea behind the poem is Donne's desperate struggle to be at one with God; he feels he is losing the battle. He depicts the bonds preventing him from doing God's will through images of war, sex, and marriage.

Donne, opens with a dramatic exclamation:
Batter my heart, three person'd God
The force of this opening line is maintained throughout the poem, right to the last line with its 'you ravish mee'. The rhythm is an insistent hammering and the images are nearly all of violent action. The explosive 'B' of the opening word is continued in the alliteration of lines 3 and 4:
. . . and bendyour force, to breake, blowe, burn . . .

In the first quatrain (1st four lines), he uses the imagery (metaphor) of a blacksmith. He compares God to a blacksmith and himself to an object. He begs God not to just gently ‘knock’, ‘breathe’ ‘shine’ and try to mend him like a blacksmith trying to mend a dent in an object, but ‘batter’, ‘break’, ‘blow’ and ‘burn’ his heart so that God can create a new person (object) with a new heart. There is also the metaphor or image of a door used. His heart is compared to a door and he asks God not to gently knock but batter it to enter his heart. There is a hint of a paradox in these lines. To restore him or make him a new man he has to be destroyed first by God.

In the second quatrain, he uses the simile of a town forcibly taken from its rightful owner (war imagery). The town is compared to his heart and the owner to God. At present his heart has been captured by sin (to another due) as reason (reason is God’s viceroy as it is the faculty given by God to man to help man think and live a good life) has not been able to defend him but has been defeated (captiv’d) by desires of the body.

In the final quatrain, he uses yet another image, the image of marriage. He says that though he dearly loves God he is helpless as he is married (betroth’d) to God’s enemy, that is, to sin. Donne's imagery conveys the idea that the forces which bind him are not only very powerful but also deeply personal. To be 'betroth'd' to the devil implies a deep involvement. He pleads with God to apply his will and divorce him from the devil (untie, or break that knot again) and remarry him (take mee to you) so that he can be free from the devil. Here the poet uses a paradox, namely, that he has to be imprisoned (enthrall) in order to be free. If one is imprisoned one cannot be free. However the paradox is resolved because it is God who is captivating/imprisoning him so that he can be free from the devil and sin.

In the final line of the couplet, he uses yet another paradox, that is, he asks God to ravish him so that he can be chaste. Here, sexual imagery is used. ‘Ravish’ literally means have sex violently/forcibly or rape. One cannot be chaste or a virgin if one is ravished. Once again the paradox is resolved because if it is God who takes possession of him entirely and violently, he will be chaste or pure without sin.

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