Batter My Heart…

johndonne

BATTER my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee,’and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to’another due,
Labour to’admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearely’I love you,’and would be loved faine,
But am betroth’d unto your enemie:
Divorce mee,’untie, or breake that knot againe;
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you’enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

The language of Donne’s Holy Sonnet No. 14 is disarming. Donne deals with the anguish of loving God, yet being bound to sin. To do so he uses graphic, violent language: “break,” “batter,” “o’erthrow,” “imprison,” “ravish.” This language is juxtaposed with the language of redemption: “mend,” “make me new,” “free,” “chaste,” and “love.”

In my Ethics and the Problem of Evil class this week, this poem caused quite a stir. The class seemed to be divided into three camps. (1) Those who thought the language was inappropriate when used of God, completely irrelevant for pastoral settings and/or just plain shocking. (2) Those who defended Donne’s language and sought to explain what he was trying to say, and (3) Those who were shocked and yet intrigued, who were divided inwardly and reserved judgment

I am currently writing a short paper arguing for my own reaction (which you will have to read to know). In the meantime, however, I would love to hear from anyone out there who may happen to read this entry. What do you think about Donne’s poem? What was your initial gut response? Or, what can this poem teach us about life with God?