Holy Sonnets — John Donne

The following is a beautiful poem from John Donne’s Holy Sonnets and the brief analysis I wrote for class.

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.

I, like a usurped town, to another due,

Labor to admit you, but O, to no end;

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,

But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,

But am betrothed 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.

Onomatopoeia plays an important role in the first quatrain, beginning with the word batter. In the 3rd line, rise and stand are also descriptive of the actions they imply; the long vowel sound in rise hints at uncertainty yet leads to stand, made strong and sure by its consonants.

Yet most powerful are the groups of 3 one-syllable words in the 2nd and 4th lines. Perhaps not obvious as onomatopoeia when standing alone, together they pack a powerful punch, especially since the grouping of the words is parallel. Knock and break, ending with the harsh and abrupt ‘k’ sound, lend a sense of disruption; breathe and blow are similar in meaning with the long vowel sounds lending a more calming connotation; shine and burn, in which the ‘n’ sounds linger to suggest continuation, contrasting the sharp consonants in the first words and essentially asking God to continue his work once the initial pain of awakening is past.

The smooth and graceful sound of the phrase rise and stand is startlingly brought back to harsh reality by the alliteration in line 4 of the words break, blow, and burn. The abrupt and repeated ‘b’ sound forces the reader to pause between each word, adding emphasis to the bluntness of the destructive actions necessary to bring about renewal.

Published in: on March 12, 2012 at 4:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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