Batter My Heart Three Personed God

Batter My Heart Three-Personed God

by John Donne

Batter My Heart (Holy Sonnet 14) Summary & Analysis

In Short

  • John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14 (Batter My Heart) presents the speaker’s personal crisis of faith.
  • The speaker thinks his soul is captured by the devil. But he wishes to come back to the religious path. So, he asks God to slam into his heart and take hold of it.
  • The speaker develops a number of metaphors to emphasize how he wants to break his connection with Satan and unite with the God instead.

Batter My Heart (Holy Sonnet 14) – Explanation

Lines 1 – 2

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

The poem begins with the speaker’s demands towards God (God the Father, Christ the Son and the Holy Ghost make up the “three-personed God” – the Holy Trinity). He requests the God to batter his heart. The term ‘batter’ here suggests repeated blows. The speaker thus commands that all three in three-personed God attack his heart.

The lyrical voice (speaker) says that the God has previously attempted mild efforts to cleanse his heart. He has knocked, breathed, shined and tried to repair (mend) him. God’s effort to purify his heart is compared to a tinker’s effort to repair an old utensil. This series of verbs (in line 2) reflects on various Biblical characteristics. For instance, ‘knock’ represents a polite request to open the door. This follows the scriptural idea that God knocks on a person’s door and he/she must let him in.

So, the speaker does not want his deity to hesitate at the door, but to slam into his heart. Here, the speaker associates God the Father with power as he knocks, the Holy Spirit with breath as he breathes and Christ the Son with light as he shines.

Lines 3 – 4

That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

Like the first two lines, here too the speaker asks the God to treat him violently. He explains that for him to ‘rise and stand’, God should overthrow him. It means in Christianity, one must endure the human or worldly life to be worthy of the after-life with God. The speaker wants to suffer by being beaten down in his present life so that he will be deserving of the everlasting salvation that is promised after death. He wants God to make him a new person by using his power (bend your force).

The verbs used in line 4 are used in contrast to those used in line 2. The speaker proposes that the Father ought to break him (instead of ‘knock’), the Holy Spirit ought to blow him like a strong wind (instead of ‘breathe’) and the Son ought to burn him like fire (instead of ‘shine’). He should be made new instead of being mended. Only then, God can make him free from sin.

By using the words “break, blow, burn and make me new”, the speaker compares the cruel treatment he wants to receive to the work of a blacksmith. He wishes that his soul be melted down, cleansed of unclean things and then made afresh. His soul is probably damaged. In order to take all sin out of it, it must be recreated.

Lines 5 – 6

I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end.

The speaker here compares himself to a town that is captured or occupied (usurped) by some unwelcome force. Now it belongs to someone else (to another due), not God. His duty is to serve God but he is occupied by the devil.

The speaker tries hard (labour) to let the God enter into his soul (town), but it is a vain attempt. The word ‘Oh’ expresses the speaker’s regret that he is unsuccessful to let God in.

Donne here creates a great metaphysical conceit by comparing one’s soul to a town that can be occupied either by God or by the devil. If we go back to the previous lines now, we can see that even those lines can be connected to this conceit. The speaker asks God to forcefully enter into his heart or soul (town) which is now captured by evil forces.

Lines 7 – 8

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

In line 8, the speaker personifies reason. Reason is like the deputy (viceroy) of God guiding us in choosing which is good and which is bad. God gives us enough reason to protect and guard ourselves against Satan and temptation. So, reason should defend ourselves, helping us choose the right path.

But, for the speaker, Satan or devil has overtaken him, reason has failed. It is as if reason has been captivated by the devil or it is weak or unfaithful in his case and thus cannot defend him.

Lines 9 – 11

Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,

The speaker expresses his love for the God. This is the most straightforward line we have had so far. “Would be loved fain” suggests that he would love God to be loved. Actually, he anticipates love in return. But the problem is that he is engaged to marry God’s enemy, i.e., Satan.

The speaker, therefore, asks God to take him out of their engagement. He wants a divorce to untie or break the nuptial knot. The word ‘again’ perhaps suggests the reference to the moment in Genesis (Old Testament) when God expels Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden because they follow Satan’s advice. So, the God will have to break the bond between Satan and the speaker, as He did before with Adam.

Lines 12 – 14

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

The speaker requests God to take him with Him, to imprison him so that the devil cannot reach him anymore. He wants to unite with the God.

Unless God enslaves (enthrall) him in love, he shall never be free from the hands of Satan. Similarly, he will never be pure (chaste) unless God ‘ravishes’ him. Now, the term ‘ravish’ can have different interpretations. It may mean “seize and carry off by force” or “sexually assault”. Though both the meanings make sense here, a sexual undertone is most widely accepted here. If that meaning is taken, God’s divine love is compared to an erotic seduction. And this erotic touch is indeed the hallmark of Donne’s poems.

In these final lines, Donne presents paradoxical statements to present the contrast between God and Satan and how God can free him from his spiritual distress, from the hands of the devil.

Batter My Heart (Holy Sonnet 14) – Into Details

Publication

“Batter My Heart, Three-Person’d God” is a religious poem of John Donne. He wrote 19 Holy Sonnets in total. Among them, our present poem, Sonnet XIV was written after 1610. But it was published two years after Donne’s death. It was first published in the Westmoreland Manuscript, and later in “Divine Meditations (1633), also known as “Holy Sonnets” or “Divine Sonnets”. These sonnets are intense and personal, and have a force unique in this class of literature. Here is the unedited version of the sonnet.

Background/Context

John Donne wrote in England during the Renaissance period that saw a flourishing of art and literature. During this time, people emphasized the abilities and depths of humans, placing human beings at the center of the universe, rather than God.

Also, Donne was one of the famous metaphysical poets. Each of the metaphysical poets had their own complicated relationship with religion. Donne was born to a Roman Catholic family. In 1615, he entered the Anglican church, and in 1621, he became the Dean of St. Paul’s. He was the first great Anglican preacher. These sermons or sonnets, written after 1610, reveal the struggles in his mind before taking orders in the Anglican church.

Setting

Holy Sonnet 14 has no particular setting. It can be said to have taken place in the speaker’s mind. The poem is the speaker’s plea to God. It depicts the relationship between the human soul and God.

Metaphors and paradoxes are used throughout the poem. For example, the speaker’s soul is compared to a town which has been taken over by the enemy forces. This is the most place-like situation in the poem. Rest of the poem talks about the speaker’s body which stands for human soul. The last couple lines can be interpreted as a bedroom scene, an erotic encounter between the speaker and God.

Title

The title of the sonnet “Batter My Heart, Three-Personed God” is very significant because it suggests the theme which is a passionate and forceful appeal to the Almighty to take complete possession of the poet’s heart. The intensity of the poet’s feeling is conveyed by the word ‘batter’. ‘To batter’ means to strike repeatedly, to beat severely. The poet thinks himself to be a hardened sinner and that’s why he persistently prays to the Christian Trinity – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit to purify him so that he can come back to God again.

The poet here represents God as a ravisher. According to him, God is the only one who can push him up on the spiritual path.

Form and Language

Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14 is written in the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet form with a slight change in the rhyme scheme. In the classical Italian sonnet there is an octave (first eight lines) and a sestet (last six lines). And, very often there is a volta or turn which sets the two parts apart.

Donne’s sonnet is no exception. The octave here compares the speaker’s soul to a usurped town and he appeals to the God to forcefully enter that town. Then comes the volta in line 9. The word ‘yet’ suggests a turn in the poem’s tone and topic. The sestet part focuses on how God’s love can free the speaker from all sins.

The language used by Donne in “Batter My Heart” is highly dramatic. The poet plays with language in two main ways in the poem – by creating unusual metaphors and by paradoxes which create ambiguity.

Meter and Rhyme

John Donne is known for not following any rigid pattern for rhyme or meter in his poetry. Holy Sonnet 14, though written in the Petrarchan sonnet form, does not follow its rhyme scheme strictly. “Batter My Heart” uses a rhyme scheme of ABBA ABBA CDCDDD.

However, the actual rhyme scheme used in a Petrarchan or Italian sonnet is ABBA ABBA CDCDCD or ABBA ABBA CDECDE. Done has made a deviation in the sestet portion.

Notably, Donne has used internal rhyme in line 4 (‘break’ and ‘make’) and again in line 11-12 (‘break’ and ‘take’). Some subtler instances are in line 6 (‘oh and ‘no’) and in lines 5-6 (‘to’, ‘you’ and ‘due’). There is a slant rhyme in line 3 (‘stand’ and ‘bend’).

Sonnets are usually written in iambic pentameter. Donne too has but loosely used iambic (unstressed-stressed) pentameter (five feet in a line) in Holy Sonnet 14. There are a lot of exceptions.

Batter | my heart, | three-per– | soned God, | for you
As yet | but knock, | breathe, shine, | and seek | to mend;

As you can see from the scanning above, the first foot of the first line is a trochee (stressed-unstressed). Again, the third foot in the second line is a spondee (stressed-stressed).

Batter My Heart (Holy Sonnet 14) – Themes

Crisis of Religious Faith

The main concern of Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14 has been a personal crisis of faith – a religious doubt, a soul-searching. The speaker believes himself to be a hardened sinner. It is as if his soul is occupied by the God’s enemy, i.e., Satan. But he wants to return to the religious path. So, he pleads to the God to forcefully enter his heart and to rescue him from the hands of Satan.

Actually, John Donne was born to a Roman Catholic family. In 1615, he entered the Anglican church. His sermons in the Holy Sonnets reveal the struggles in his mind before taking orders in the Anglican church.

Faith as Erotic Love

Donne in his Holy Sonnet 14 shows religious faith as an erotic love. He expresses his passionate love for God and also asks God to love him in order to stay close to Him and to keep the devil away. But this love is physical as well as spiritual. The speaker believes that he can be free from sins only if the God takes him as His prisoner and ravishes him.

The use of powerful verbs like ‘batter’, ‘overthrow’, ‘break’, ‘blow’, ‘burn’, ‘enthrall’ and ‘ravish’ create a sense that passion and force is central to faith. The poem indeed suggests that religious faith is rather a rough, forceful spiritual seduction.

Batter My Heart (Holy Sonnet 14) – Symbols

Heart

The heart in Holy Sonnet 14 represents one’s inner soul. The speaker requests God to enter into his heart which is taken over by the Satan, God’s enemy. He wants to be rescued by the God. Thus, the poet indicates to a moral corruption. His soul needs a purification.

Again, the heart also suggests passion and love. For the God, to enter the speaker’s heart is synonymous to love him. The speaker craves for the God’s love to be able to love Him and stay away from the Satan.

Batter My Heart (Holy Sonnet 14) – Literary Devices

End-Stopped Line

An end-stopped line is a line of verse that ends with a punctuation. Most of the lines in “Batter My Heart” are end-stopped lines.

I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

Enjambment

When a sentence continues to the next line of a verse without pause, it is called an enjambment. For example –

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.

Caesura

A caesura in poetry is a pause (with a comma, semicolon etc.) in the middle of a line.

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

Assonance

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words.

As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, (‘e’ sound and ‘i:’ sound)

Consonance

Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in neighbouring words.

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you (‘t’ and ‘r’ sounds)
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend; (‘b’, ‘n’ and ‘s’ sounds)

Alliteration

Alliteration is a sub-category of consonance. It is the repetition of consonant sounds in the beginning (or, stressed syllables) of nearby words.

Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new. (‘b’ and ‘m’ sounds)

Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain, (‘l’ sound)

Simile

Simile is a direct comparison between two tings using ‘as’ or ‘like’.

I, like an usurped town, to another due,

In line 5 of the poem, the speaker compares himself to a usurped town which has been occupied by someone else.

Metaphor

A metaphor is an indirect or implied comparison between two things where there is a point of similarity.

In the first two lines, the speaker compares God to a tinker and himself to a pot which the tinker shapes and tries to mend.

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

Then, in lines 5-6 the speaker compares his heart to a captured town. In the sestet part, the the speaker compares himself to a maiden betrothed to God’s enemy.

But am betrothed unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,

Personification

Personification is attribution of human qualities on non-human things.

In “Batter My Heart”, the poet personifies ‘reason’ in lines 7 and 8 when he says that reason has either been captived or weak or dishonest not to save the speaker from Satan, i.e., from sins.

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

Apostrophe

In poetry, an apostrophe is a figure of speech in which the poet addresses an absent person, an abstract idea, or a thing.

In Holy Sonnet 14, the speaker addresses the God directly and uses second person pronoun ‘you’.

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you

Addressing a God or a Muse is quite common in English poetry. The speaker here requests God to rescue him from the hands of Satan and to cleanse him of his sins. God is here an erotic lover who can purify the speaker with His divine seduction.

Paradox

Paradox is the use of apparently contradictory statement to point out some underlying truth.

We find a number of paradoxes in Holy Sonnet 14. For example –

That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me …

In the above extract (line 3), the concept of ‘rise and stand’ is completely in contrary to ‘overthrow’. But the speaker here suggests a valid idea that he should suffer in this earthly life in order to enjoy God’s company after death.

… break, blow, burn, and make me new.

In line 4 of “Batter My Heart”, ‘break, blow, burn’ and ‘make me new’ are quite opposite ideas placed side by side. But actually, the speaker is suggesting a purification of his heart by sufferings. This is, thus, a good example of paradox.

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Similarly, in lines 13 and 14, the poet uses quite opposite ideas in ‘enthrall’ (enslave) and ‘free’, and in ‘’chaste’ and ‘ravish’. But the speaker actually presents a valid thought by saying that he will be pure and free from sins only if God takes him under his control and fills him with His divine love.

Allusion

An allusion is an indirect reference to something of historical, cultural, political or literary importance.

In the opening line of Holy Sonnet 14, the speaker alludes to the Christian Holy Trinity of God the Father, Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit when he mentions “three-personed god”.

Again, in lines 10, “your enemy” indirectly suggests Satan, the God’s enemy in Christianity. Similarly, in line 11, “break that knot again” has an allusion. It refers to the moment in Genesis (Old Testament) when God expels Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden for following Satan’s advice. All these allusions used in this poem are religious in nature and it is quite usual for a religious sermon like this.

Climax

A climax is a figure of speech where words are arranged in order of increasing importance.

For example, in lines 11 through 14 of “Batter My Heart”, the verbs like ‘divorce’, ‘imprison’, ‘enthrall’ and ‘ravish’ are arranged in an order of increasing importance. The speaker’s idea gets more intense with every passing line of verse here.

Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Chiasmus

Chiasmus is a rhetorical figure in which words, grammatical constructions or concepts are repeated in reverse order.

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

In the last couplet of the sonnet, we see a grammatical syntax repeated in reverse order. It is like “Except you _____, never _____”, “Nor ever _____, except you _____”.

So, here we have a classic example of chiasmus.

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