John Donne Essay Research Paper As a

John Donne Essay, Research Paper

As a young poet, John Donne often utilized metaphors of spiritual bond in many

of his Songs and Sonnets in order to explain fleshly love. Once he renounced

Catholicism and converted to the Anglican faith (circa 1597), Donne donned a

more devotional style of verse, such as in his Holy Sonnets (circa 1609-1610),

finding parallels to divine love in the carnal union. In many ways, however, his

love poems and his religious poems are quite similar, for they both address his

personae?s deep-seated fear of isolation by women and God, respectively. For

example, in ?Song,? Donne?s speaker tells an unknown person (presumably

male) that if he would ?Ride ten thousand days and nights? he would return

?And swear/ Nowhere/ Lives a woman true, and fair? (ll. 12; 16-18).

Similarly, in Holy Sonnet 2, the speaker voices fear that God will not be with

him on his day of reckoning: ?Oh I shall soon despair when I do see/ That Thou

lov?st mankind well, yet wilt not choose me? (ll. 12-13). Whereas many of

Donne?s love poems display a speaker?s anxiety and anger about his inability

to sustain affection from a woman, Donne transferred that theme of resentment

towards women to frustration with God because he personally doubted his

salvation. Why would Donne have felt unfulfilled spiritually during the time in

which he wrote theHoly Sonnets? Witherspoon and Warnke posit that ?Donne?s

religious doubts seem to have been?settled? because after his conversion to

Anglicanism, he led attacks against Roman Catholicism and published a treatise

which encouraged English Catholics to take the oath of allegiance (58). While

Donne abandoned Catholicism for Anglicanism willingly, records indicate that he

did so primarily for reasons of self-preservation and self-advancement (Carey

60). I propose that despite his genuine attempts to embrace the Anglican faith,

he encountered seemingly insurmountable liturgical roadblocks that caused a

long-lasting religious disorientation. To leave one religion in order to embrace

another with some fundamental differences with respect to eternal salvation must

have troubled Donne greatly. As a Catholic, Donne probably believed that

salvation was achieved by true contrition for sins, personal endeavor and

virtuous behavior. As an Anglican, however, he was forced to adopt the

Calvinistic approach that personal effort was futile and irrelevant; he must be

chosen as one of the elect. Donne, then, reasonably must have felt that he was

not one the elect when he converted, for he had sinned merely by being a

Catholic. No longer cushioned by the assurances of Catholicism and its

sacraments, he possessed a fear of eternal damnation. This was also a sin, for

in order to be saved by God, one had to believe he was already saved. In

essence, fear of condemnation caused condemnation. Donne?s Holy Sonnets reveal

his consternation over his unworthiness as a Christian through speakers?

repeated attempts to beg God for redemption. In Sonnet 14 the speaker plays the

martyr by asking God to brutally force redemption upon him, for the speaker

cannot achieve it by the Catholic mode of prayer or the humanistic mode of

reason. Simultaneously, Donne is able to be the martyr he could never be once he

turned traitor to his original faith. Famous for his metaphysical conceits, and

his relentless pursuit of a faithful woman, Donne uses the most farfetched

paradoxical juxtaposition of all: his speaker begs God to rape him or her in

order to become chaste. Donne employs numerous poetic devices in order to

suggest a symbolic rape that would win salvation for his speaker. The hard

consonant ?B? in the first quatrain alliterates the words ?batter,? (l.

1) ?breathe,? (l. 2) ?bend? (l. 3), and ?break, blow, burn? (l. 4)

in order to conjure violent images. Notice, however that these violent images

are welcomed, for in an extremely perverse way, ?Batter my heart? (l. 1) is

an example of the invitation ?sub-genre.? The word ?heart? was possibly

Elizabethan slang for the vagina, and therein lies a very blatant sexual

metaphor. Donne uses subtler sexual imagery in the first quatrain when the

speaker continues to ask God for physical favors: ?o?erthrow me, and bend/

Your force? (ll. 3-4). From a sexual standpoint, the speaker asks God not to

tease and tantalize, but rather to exert force upon him or her. This relates to

Donne?s religious dilemma in that in the first two lines, the speaker states

that he or she does not want to be ?mend[ed]? by God, but rather spiritually

reborn. The speaker?s old self is insufficient, and no amount of prayer will

qualify him as worthy of redemption. God must act first and ?make [the

speaker] new? (ll. 4). In the second quatrain of Holy Sonnet 14, Donne uses

the simile of a usurped town to further portray the speaker as spiritually



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