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Monday, May 19, 2008

Monday Morning Poem: Holy Sonnet, John Donne


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.

Reaching way back in the canon here, for a super-religious poem from a Christ-loving, Jew-hater white British dude. But wasn't he talented!

In this poem he's basically saying that he's in bed with the devil and he wants to go to God, but unless He forcibly knocks him over, overwhelms him, and essentially rapes him (see the final couplet), it prolly won't happen.

If you divorce the religious stuff from the writing, I always find this poem to be about this slice of the human condition--how we even want pure and exalted feelings to overwhelm us in an animal and almost sexual way. It explains a lot about why fanatical belief is more widely appealing than reasoned belief. (Reason, Donne notes, is not enough to turn himself from the Dark Side)

Note the tight control Donne exerts over the writing, but how it still feels wild and desperate, and the neat way he fits the contradictions in to the final couplet.

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