In looking at this question, it is my opinion that it is arousing a discussion of the self-denial that religion imposes and also the conflict it imposes on the self. For this I will primarily be looking at Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre' and the poetry of John Donne.
The progression of Jane Eyre's life is shown by a variety of links to religion due to the many changes in her way of life. Bronte shows her childhood at Gateshead in a passively religious context, but the Red Room scene in Chapter 2 gives the reader an insight into Jane's childhood worries of life and death. The contrast of "crimson cloth" with "a snowy Marseilles counterpane" (Bronte, Chap 2 Jane Eyre) provides the reader with thoughts of purity versus sin and passion and consequently the conflicts within religion which are shown to prey on Jane's mind:
I began to recall what I had heard of dead men,
troubled in their graves by the violation of their last wishes, revisiting the earth to punish the purged and avenge the oppressed
(Bronte, Chap 2 Jane Eyre')
Jane has been in a family structure based on punishment and, rebellion by her. Before entering the Red Room, she is reminded by Miss Abbott that "God will punish her" and that she is to say her prayers, for if she does not repent, "something bad may be permitted to come down the chimney" and fetch her away (Bronte, Chap 2 Jane Eyre'). This comment to a child is undoubtedly going to have some impact and as shown in the extract from the Red Room scene above, Jane's thoughts of the relationship one has with God relate to the form of upbringing that she has received from her Aunt's household. She talks of her understandings of religion but does not address God himself.
In comparison, Donne's Holy Sonnet No 14' shows a detached tone in a religious address. A typical association with prayer is that of formality and reverence. Donne has a control over his poem in terms of form and structure in that he uses a combination of the Italian scheme (first 8 lines) and English structure (last 6 lines), but at the same time as the poem has an A-symmetry, each line is unique enhancing the fact that it is speech based and in relation to the self. Although a characteristic element of prayer is reverence, Donne addresses God in a detached tone calling him "three-personed God" (Line 1), and in fact this is the only time in the poem where we actually see a direct reference to God. This in turn creates an interesting aspect for the reader, as it seems as through the sonnet is not strictly about God but possibly an address to him, yet it could also be viewed as being primarily about Donne himself as the word "I" features prominently. This creates an intimacy amongst the poem but despite this, Donne's poetry sounds very public: "Your force to break, blow, burn
" (Line 4). The address is undoubtedly to God but yet the poem is about Donne: the use of the words "I" and "my" appear 14 times and in relation to the addressee, words such as "God" and "you" appear 9 times. It seems to be Donne's relationship with God and the interesting aspect and challenging aspect for the reader is the fact that it takes the form of a sonnet. It is clear that through drawing on the exercise of prayer, the poet is making both an address to God and a comment about God and the form itself shows elision in order to fit the structure of the poem, a sonnet. The challenging aspect for the reader lies here; the fact that it is a sonnet shows me an intensity of thought as sonnets are typically thought of in this era as being about relationships, for example the sonnets of Shakespeare that invariably concern his love affairs. This gives an immediate impression upon the reader. Donne's first words are, "Batter my heart" (Line 1). At an initial glance this could be taken as an image of love or love-tension and as the poem progresses, we see strong imagery of love and warfare:
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved...
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