The Relationship Between Donne's Religious and Secular Verse.

Topics: Poetry, Sonnet, Meter Pages: 7 (2292 words) Published: February 17, 2006
Donne's love poetry and his religious verse have an extremely close relationship and this manifests itself in the presence of religious imagery and reference in his love poems, the presence of imagery in his religious poems that is more akin to that from courtly love, and in his style and technique. It is this sense of Donne's individuality that creates two types of poetry that, for all their differences, are strikingly similar.

The holy sonnets refer to the old love poet characteristics of Donne, such as in ‘I am little world' when he remembers ‘the fire of lust', or his words to his ‘profane mistress' in ‘what if this present'. However now he regrets and ‘repents' his tears wasted on his past idolatries of women, as he now feels such sensual love is far inferior to his present love for God, and even feels that such a past was ,'my sin' (‘Oh might these sighs'). But Donne does not render his previous courtly love completely devoid of significance, as in ‘Since she whom I lov'd', a sonnet about his devotion to God now his wife has died, he claims that his ‘amorous' soul was led to divine love by his experiences in secular, earthly love; ‘admiring her my mind did whet to seek thee God'. In ‘what if this present' , Donne's former persona and present one merge when his imagined picture of Christ in his heart that signifies his divine love, which reminds him of his sensual love, which used to remind him of divine love.

In ‘Oh to vex me' Donne states that this connection is far from beneficial as even though he may ‘change in vows, and in devotion' he feels it has led him to have an inappropriate attitude towards God, he ‘courts' him one day and therefore lives in ‘fear of his rod' the next. Donne's secular poetry sometimes presented him as suffering an idolatrous love, such as that in ‘Twickenham Garden' which caused him to ‘groan' and wish himself a stone fountain that he may ‘weep out my year', and his religious poetry, such as ‘o might these sighs' claim that he now suffers the holy counterpart of such love. The two pieces even use much of the same imagery and language; ‘o might these sighs' and it's reference to his tears and grief parallels Twickenham gardens ‘blasted by sighs, surrounded by tears' and his sense of being ‘killed' by his unrequited love. We therefore see that between Donne's love poetry and his religious verse there is a shift in orientation, but not in the tone of his emotional life. As John Chudleigh observed he did not reject his former approach and style but ‘transplanted it…and brought it home to pietie (piety)'

A theme that recurs in his religious verse is the sense that, on some level, he is still that poet of courtly love, that seducer of women and that lover of the physical acts of love; his religious poems do not consistently and absolutely renounce sin as one may expect of traditional holy verse, but rather more confess that in spite of himself and his good intentions he is likely to act in his usual sinful way, He still feels ‘the fire of lust and envy' and therefore cries out for help from God in being firm, asking, ‘teach me how to repent' (‘At the earth's imagined corners')

The rhetoric of ‘Batter my heart' further emphasises this feeling of being ‘weak and untrue', and his inability to give himself to God even though he desires to do so. He uses sexual imagery similar to that used in his secular poems to illustrate this; he feels ‘asurp'd' by the devil claims he can ‘nor ever [be]...

Bibliography: Arnold Stein, John Donne 's Lyrics: the Eloquence of Action (Oxford, 1962)
Wilbur Sanders, John Donne 's Poetry (Cambridge, 1971)
George Parfitt, John Donne: A Literary Life (Basingstoke, 1989)
John Carey, John Donne: Life, Mind, and Art (1981)
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