This Holy Sonnet is a plea to God by John Donne, asking for asking for holy redemption through the metaphysical conceit of, paradoxically, destruction.
The first eight lines, or first two quatrains, are linked not only by the rhyming pattern of a-b-b-a-a-b-b-a,
but also the theme of asking God for redemption in the form of annihilation. The very first
word, batter, has destructive connotations, yet he is requesting that the "three-personed
God" (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), "Batter my heart." The second line is a series of
verbs that describe how Donne would like God to interact with him. "Knock" would be
God figuratively knocking on the door to Donne's heart or perhaps the door to death. "Breath" is a sign of vitality and living. Donne wishes not for life on Earth, but
eternal life. "Shine" represents God's holiness and hope that he offers in the face of death.
"Mend" embodies what Donne's hope is, to have God spiritually fix him up. Paradoxically, he asks
God to bend him in the very next line. This paradox of salvation through destruction
appears to be the metaphysical conceit of the poem. The idea of Donne begging
redemption from God, but seeing redemption as destruction of his physical life is
embodied by this attack Donne wishes to be the target of. Playing off the word bend,
Donne goes on to alliterate break, blow, and burn as more war-like diction that is being
used paradoxically in hopes for salvation. In short, the first four lines are a plea to God for
destruction of either his sin or his physical body in hopes for something better.
The second quatrain continues the salvation through destruction theme. Donne
uses the simile, "I, like an usurped town... Labor to admit you," to show how difficult it is
for him to "admit" to God, or to yield to his wishes. Perhaps Donne's request of such
harsh treatment is because it is so hard to follow God's will. He sees reason as a guide to
working for God that should be upheld: "Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend."
Viceroy, or a governor in one's stead, is used to reflect the politics behind war. The war that
Donne speaks of is his self-inflicted beating he is asking from God. However, reason, "...is
captived, and proves weak or untrue." Donne implies there is nothing that can take the
place of carrying out God's will.
The third quatrain brings a change to the poem. Mechanically, the rhyme scheme is
now c-d-c-d before the ending couplet of e-e. Also, love and marriage become prevalent
over destruction as the metaphysical conceit. However, paradoxical rejection occurs here
as well. "Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain," proclaims Donne in adoration.
However, contradictions return in the next line when he says, "But I am betrothed unto
your enemy." Donne goes on and once again requesting God to do something seemingly unfavorable,
but with spiritual hope in mind when he says, "Divorce me, untie or break that knot
again." He finally says something direct in the last line of the quatrains, "Take me to you,"
but he also continues the spiritual/physical reversals with, "Imprison me."
Concluding the sonnet is a rhyming couplet that states Donne will never be free,
nor chaste because God has enthralled and ravished him. The first two quatrains are
connected with being not free and enthralled; war and people being captured go hand in hand.
The last quatrain relates to being not chaste and ravished; physical love leads to people
being unchaste. However, Donne uses double meanings for ravished and enthrall. Although connecting to his early quatrains, they can also be seen as awe for God and his
In conclusion, Donne uses war and marriage as metaphysical conceits to reveal
how he wishes for God's help in saving his soul. It's possible he could have used the
violent time period he lived in as inspiration for this bizarre, almost backwards view of