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Analysis: 'Holy Sonnet XIV' by John Donne

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Analysis: 'Holy Sonnet XIV' by John Donne

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  • May 2, 2008
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Martin Maginn 10XG (English)

HOLY SONNET XIV -

This is one of John Donne's many Holy Sonnets which contain a religious theme. It follows the structure of a Standard English sonnet in which there are 3 quatrains consisting of 4 lines each, followed by a rhyming couplet at the end. The rhyming scheme also follows this standard structure which is: a-b-b-a, a-b-b-a, c-d-c-d, e-e.

This poem is all about John Donne who is a sinner pleading to God for redemption. The first line mentions a "three-personed God", which is obviously the Holy Trinity. The 2nd line uses the words "knock, breathe, shine", which later become exaggerated to "break, blow, burn". The 2nd line refers to the gentle behaviors of God the Father, God the Holy Ghost and God the Sun. But John Donne does not want such gentleness as you can see; he wants God to "make me new" through increased force and not just "seek to mend".

There is use of a simile in the 2nd quatrain in which John Donne says "I, like an usurped town…labor to admit you". This shows how hard it is for him to accept God or yield to his wishes.

Then in the 3rd quatrain the poem changes slightly. The first line talks about Donne's dear love for God, but in the second line he says that he's "betrothed unto your enemy". This could be compared to a woman who is married to her true lover's enemy, she wants to be divorced from her current husband and be with her dear lover instead. In the case of this poem, Donne wants to be free of sin and the devil and come to God instead, even if this must be accomplished by force ("imprison me").

The last two lines which are a rhyming couplet basically sum up the poem and draws up the conclusion. It says that unless God enthralls and ravishes Donne, he will never be free nor chaste.