John Donne (1236 words) Essay

John Donne
Purify my heart for I have sinned: An Irony In John Donne??s ??Batter my
heart, three-personed God; for You,?? the moral and religious qualms of the
speaker are manifest in a sonnet which seems at first almost like an avowal
between lovers. These convictions of guilt, which stem from his sexual emotion,
are what induce desire for a creator/creation relationship with God. With
further analysis, the violent and sexual slant on the relationship is also
revealed. The first expression provides the reader with an initial framework for
the mood of the poem. Donne says, ??Batter my heart,?? (1) This opening word
is the first of an upcoming myriad of terms of violence. The impression given is
that the speaker is either a vulnerable and/or masochistic person. However, it
becomes evident in the lines ensueing that the speaker is somewhat disconcerted.

Batter my heart, three-personed 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. (1-4) In lines 1 and 3, he is
asking God for torment, to be overcome. In lines 2 and 4, he is requesting to be
fixed, mended, made new. The speaker is vascillating between the two; he seems
indecisive. The verbs in lines 2 and 4 oddly parallel eachother. They are
thematically similar; complementing, but at the same time contradicting. ??Knock??
corresponds to ??break,?? as ??breathe?? does to ??blow,?? and so
on. Nonetheless these lines allude to the subordinate role that he takes. In
line 5, a complication emerges. He is ??to another due.?? (5) There is
another character in the poem who has seized him by force, ??like an usurped
town.?? (5) In the appropriation of a town, the usurper must be the new ruler
of the town, the authoritative leader who snatches the reins of power from the
original leader. This image of an ??usurped town?? makes an interesting
metaphor for Satan??s heist of a man??s soul from God. It is the Christian
belief that the human spirit, originally owned by God, is at a constant battle
with the devil, who in turn provides perpetual temptation to which the
Christians fall, and want God to mitigate. The speaker says, ??Labor to admit
You, but Oh, to no end!?? (6) He desires and works to admit God as the
beholder, the controller and owner of his spirit, but the Devil??s seizure is
??to no end.?? His defense of the ??viceroy?? in him ??proves weak and
untrue.?? (8) A town is also not quite as unyielding as it appears from the
outside. We saw from line 1 that the speaker wants to be taken by God. Since he
is ??betrothed unto?? God??s enemy, he needs for God to break his tie to
Satan, and to ??imprison?? him so that he would unsusceptible to the Devil??s
domination. Like someone snared in a defective marriage, he must be ??divorced??
or ??untied?? from the knot. The manner in which Donne describes this
depicts the violent nature of how he wants God to rescue him. He says, ??Take
me to You, imprison me.?? (12) It is also obvious in his use of harsh verbs-
batter, knock, o??erthrow, break, blow, burn, usurp, break, imprison. It seems
to me that the speaker is so keenly aware of his sins and shortcomings that it
is imperative that God not only saves him from his sinful ways, but does so in
an intense, brutal manner. It is a role which he wants God to play because he
feels the need to be rebuked in two divergent respects; that of the creator and
of the restorer. These particular yearnings of treatment demonstate the elevated
fervor and passion of his religious conviction, which in this case is
accompanied by brutality to recompensate his sins. This passion is implicated
with a sexual character. ??Batter my heart.?? (1) In layman??s terms it
would say ??hurt me.?? Interestingly, the word ??heart?? during Donne??s
era had a sexual connotation. (A Dictionary of Shakespeare??s Sexual Puns and
their Significance) This definition does not actually come into play until the
concluding lines, where he speaks of being raped by God. ??Except You enthrall
me, never shall be free,/ Nor ever chaste, except You ravish me.?? (13-14)
Donne??s choice of words is imperative in ascertaining the sexuality of the
poem. The word ??enthrall?? means to captivate, charm, and hold in slavery.

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The previous and following phrases, ??imprison me,?? and ??never shall be
free,?? (13) indicate that Donne used the word in every meaning. This has both
a violent and a sexual slant; he is enslaved forcefully and sexually. This
foreshadows the fornication which will take place in the next line. ??Ravish??
is a key verb, holding significant meaning. It first seems a mere reference to
the act of transporting with strong emotion (esp. joy). However, upon closer
inspection, the multiple meanings of the word create an entirely new perspective
on the poem. The other meanings of ??ravish?? are to seize and carry off by
force, to kidnap, to rape and violate, and in Shakespearian times, to rob,
plunder. Donne desired for God to seize him from the ??usurper,?? the Devil
himself. The aforementioned word ??chaste,?? meaning virginal and celibate,
bestows coherance on the definition as rape. Referring back to the opening line
of the poem, the usage of the word ??heart?? as a sexual reference now makes
sense. Perhaps it also signifies the vagina; connecting the ??battering?? of
a ??heart?? to a beating of the vagina, to rape. He is asking God to ??break??
him (rape him), to make him ??new.?? In the concluding line, the speaker
states that he will ever be ??chaste, except You ravish me.?? Taken
literally, the phrase contradicts itself. How does one claim that he will never
be virginal, unless he has been raped? It is apparent here that Donne sees a
rape from God as purification, a rebirth of virginity; once again, giving
emphasis to his need to be punished for his transgressions. This brings into
question the exact nature of Donne?? s relationship with God, and how and why
he is so spiritually dependent on God. It is almost curious that God seems to be
playing all of these differing roles. Donne wants God to be the ??three-personed
God,?? (1) playing three different roles, the creator/destroyer,
restorer/purifier, and raper. The speaker is asking God to purify him, to help
him escape Satan??s grasp, but at the same time he wants to be raped. He wants
to be recreated, made ??new,?? but at the same time ??mended,??
rectified in morals. The whole intent of the poem seems contradictory, but it is
very telling of the speaker??s religious standing. Donne sees rape as a sort
of purification of the soul. It sanctifies ??chastity?? rather than
annihilating it. He requests this violence to cleanse him of his sinful
defilements. He wants God to beat the sin out of him because he is tempted by
it. His soul is married to the temptation of the world, to the devil and sin.

Hence, needs God to imprison him because he feels helpless, aimless; he needs
direction. However he cannot see himself free from sin??s deathly grip. This
explains the irony of the concluding lines. The entire poem is filled with
irony, and fittingly, the poem ends in a contradiction. Analogous to the irony
of rape as a means of purification, God builds up as he tears down. Donne??s
religious principle is revealed in this metaphor, in his shocking request to be
ravished into chastity. He is a man who is in desperate need of being forgiven
and purified by God, a man who sees violence as the only effective means of
doing so.


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