Thoughts on “Batter My Heart” by John Donne

Batter My Heart (Holy Sonnet 14) by John Donne
Batter my heart, three-person’d 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.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
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.
(Full text courtesy of the Poetry Foundation)

I cannot believe I never talked about this poem. When I was asking for poem suggestions, Karyn said John Donne because his stuff is sexy. And you can’t really argue with this so I was on board. I’ve previously (not too eloquently) discussed “Song” and it’s connection to Howl’s Moving CastleAnd I spend so much time thinking about this poem that I was sure it must also have been featured previously. But no!

Remember earlier this month when I talked about patronage poems and my seventeenth century lit class? We also read this poem during that class. My professor told us a story about a guy in one of her own college classes who decided the poem was probably about fish (you know, batter . . . yeah) and it’s still one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard.

I’m not religious but I’ve always really enjoyed Donne’s poems. They are intrinsically tied to the concept of faith and religion–as many things in the 17th century were–but like Karyn says, they’re still so sexy.

“Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,”–can you beat this imagery? Not really. There is something very powerful and very compelling in a poem that talks about god/faith as if it were a lover. I mean, who does that? Is it any wonder we are still reading and discussing John Donne’s poetry so many years after his death?

“Song” and why I love it

Song by John Donne

Go and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me, where all past years are,
Or who cleft the Devil’s foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy’s stinging,
And find
What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind.

If thou be’est born to strange sights,
Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand days and nights,
Till age snow white hairs on thee,
Thou, when thou return’st, wilt tell me
All strange wonders that befell thee,
And swear
No where
Lives a woman true, and fair.

If thou find’st one, let me know,
Such a pilgrimage were sweet;
Yet do not, I would not go,
Though at next door we might meet,
Though she were true, when you met her,
And last, till you write your letter,
Yet she
Will be
False, ere I come, to two, or three.

—-

John Donne holds a special place in my heart. When I was a freshman in college my advisor convinced me to take a 17th Century Literature class (Because my college was wacky and I could do things like that without any pre-requisites. Also because I was awesome enough to be able to do it.). I was completely terrified because I knew nothing about 17th Century literature and I was also one of only two freshman in the class. (In case you were all worried, I did fine and wound up getting some of the highest marks in the class.)

During that class I developed a fondness for Ben Johnson and Aemilia Lanyer. I wrote a massive paper analyzing their country house poems and the difficult position poets were in as they sought patronage in conjunction with their creative expression.

But before all of that, we read John Donne. I enjoy his wry humor and I enjoy that his humor remains wry even now, talk about talent. I feel like he’d be amused to know that 378 years later people are still reading, enjoying and discussing this poem he wrote in 1633.