An Explication of John Donne’s “Holy Sonnet 14”
John Donne’s “Holy Sonnet 14,” is a poem about a man who is begging for redemption by asking God to overtake his soul. The speaker writes in a first person point-of-view that directly implies that this poem was written in the context of a prayer, which is reinforced by the title. The tone of this poem begins with praise, which progressively grows to desperation, and ends with a sense of heavy pleading. The speaker reveals through word choices, metaphors, and numerous paradoxes that he is a sinner, and realizes that the only way he can be redeemed is for God to violently imprison him from temptation.
The first four lines of the poem states the speaker’s desire to have an encounter with God in order to renew his faith. The speaker begins by asking the holy trinity—the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit—to physically attack his heart, “Batter my heart, three-person'd God”. As opposed to what God has done before, “for you / As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend.” The word choice batter has a very violent denotation, showing the reader early on the speaker’s tone of undeserving forgiveness. Lines 3-4 continue much like lines 1-2, with the speaker asking God to treat him violently. The word choices of break, blow, and burn have such violent and intense connotations that they really demand the reader’s attention. They’re also a metaphor to knock, breathe, and shine. The purpose of why he is asking God to do this to him becomes transparent in, “That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend / Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.” The theme, as the speaker puts it, is to rise and stand and become new.
The violent tone is subdued to one of pity and remorse in lines 5-8, when the speaker illustrates his desire to defend his faith. The speaker uses a simile to describe himself as a captured or usurp’d town in which God has to break into in order to get to him. The captured town...
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