John DonnePurify my heart for I have sinned: An Irony In John Donne??s ??Batter myheart, three-personed God; for You,?? the moral and religious qualms of thespeaker are manifest in a sonnet which seems at first almost like an avowalbetween lovers.
These convictions of guilt, which stem from his sexual emotion,are what induce desire for a creator/creation relationship with God. Withfurther analysis, the violent and sexual slant on the relationship is alsorevealed. The first expression provides the reader with an initial framework forthe mood of the poem. Donne says, ??Batter my heart,?? (1) This opening wordis the first of an upcoming myriad of terms of violence. The impression given isthat the speaker is either a vulnerable and/or masochistic person. However, itbecomes evident in the lines ensueing that the speaker is somewhat disconcerted.Order now
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 Yourforce, to break, blow, burn, and make me new. (1-4) In lines 1 and 3, he isasking God for torment, to be overcome. In lines 2 and 4, he is requesting to befixed, mended, made new. The speaker is vascillating between the two; he seemsindecisive.
The verbs in lines 2 and 4 oddly parallel eachother. They arethematically similar; complementing, but at the same time contradicting. ??Knock??corresponds to ??break,?? as ??breathe?? does to ??blow,?? and soon. Nonetheless these lines allude to the subordinate role that he takes. Inline 5, a complication emerges. He is ??to another due.
?? (5) There isanother character in the poem who has seized him by force, ??like an usurpedtown. ?? (5) In the appropriation of a town, the usurper must be the new rulerof the town, the authoritative leader who snatches the reins of power from theoriginal leader. This image of an ??usurped town?? makes an interestingmetaphor for Satan??s heist of a man??s soul from God. It is the Christianbelief that the human spirit, originally owned by God, is at a constant battlewith the devil, who in turn provides perpetual temptation to which theChristians fall, and want God to mitigate.
The speaker says, ??Labor to admitYou, but Oh, to no end!?? (6) He desires and works to admit God as thebeholder, the controller and owner of his spirit, but the Devil??s seizure is??to no end. ?? His defense of the ??viceroy?? in him ??proves weak anduntrue. ?? (8) A town is also not quite as unyielding as it appears from theoutside. We saw from line 1 that the speaker wants to be taken by God. Since heis ??betrothed unto?? God??s enemy, he needs for God to break his tie toSatan, and to ??imprison?? him so that he would unsusceptible to the Devil??sdomination. Like someone snared in a defective marriage, he must be ??divorced??or ??untied?? from the knot.
The manner in which Donne describes thisdepicts the violent nature of how he wants God to rescue him. He says, ??Takeme to You, imprison me. ?? (12) It is also obvious in his use of harsh verbs-batter, knock, o??erthrow, break, blow, burn, usurp, break, imprison. It seemsto me that the speaker is so keenly aware of his sins and shortcomings that itis imperative that God not only saves him from his sinful ways, but does so inan intense, brutal manner. It is a role which he wants God to play because hefeels the need to be rebuked in two divergent respects; that of the creator andof the restorer.
These particular yearnings of treatment demonstate the elevatedfervor and passion of his religious conviction, which in this case isaccompanied by brutality to recompensate his sins. This passion is implicatedwith a sexual character. ??Batter my heart. ?? (1) In layman??s terms itwould say ??hurt me.
?? Interestingly, the word ??heart?? during Donne??sera had a sexual connotation. (A Dictionary of Shakespeare??s Sexual Puns andtheir Significance) This definition does not actually come into play until theconcluding lines, where he speaks of being raped by God. ??Except You enthrallme, never shall be free,/ Nor ever chaste, except You ravish me. ?? (13-14)Donne??s choice of words is imperative in ascertaining the sexuality of thepoem. The word ??enthrall?? means to captivate, charm, and hold in slavery.
The previous and following phrases, ??imprison me,?? and ??never shall befree,?? (13) indicate that Donne used the word in every meaning. This has botha violent and a sexual slant; he is enslaved forcefully and sexually. Thisforeshadows the fornication which will take place in the next line. ??Ravish??is a key verb, holding significant meaning. It first seems a mere reference tothe act of transporting with strong emotion (esp.
joy). However, upon closerinspection, the multiple meanings of the word create an entirely new perspectiveon the poem. The other meanings of ??ravish?? are to seize and carry off byforce, to kidnap, to rape and violate, and in Shakespearian times, to rob,plunder. Donne desired for God to seize him from the ??usurper,?? the Devilhimself. The aforementioned word ??chaste,?? meaning virginal and celibate,bestows coherance on the definition as rape.
Referring back to the opening lineof the poem, the usage of the word ??heart?? as a sexual reference now makessense. Perhaps it also signifies the vagina; connecting the ??battering?? ofa ??heart?? to a beating of the vagina, to rape. He is asking God to ??break??him (rape him), to make him ??new. ?? In the concluding line, the speakerstates that he will ever be ??chaste, except You ravish me.
?? Takenliterally, the phrase contradicts itself. How does one claim that he will neverbe virginal, unless he has been raped? It is apparent here that Donne sees arape from God as purification, a rebirth of virginity; once again, givingemphasis to his need to be punished for his transgressions. This brings intoquestion the exact nature of Donne?? s relationship with God, and how and whyhe is so spiritually dependent on God. It is almost curious that God seems to beplaying all of these differing roles. Donne wants God to be the ??three-personedGod,?? (1) playing three different roles, the creator/destroyer,restorer/purifier, and raper. The speaker is asking God to purify him, to helphim escape Satan??s grasp, but at the same time he wants to be raped.
He wantsto be recreated, made ??new,?? but at the same time ??mended,??rectified in morals. The whole intent of the poem seems contradictory, but it isvery telling of the speaker??s religious standing. Donne sees rape as a sortof purification of the soul. It sanctifies ??chastity?? rather thanannihilating it. He requests this violence to cleanse him of his sinfuldefilements. He wants God to beat the sin out of him because he is tempted byit.
His soul is married to the temptation of the world, to the devil and sin. Hence, needs God to imprison him because he feels helpless, aimless; he needsdirection. However he cannot see himself free from sin??s deathly grip. Thisexplains the irony of the concluding lines. The entire poem is filled withirony, and fittingly, the poem ends in a contradiction.
Analogous to the ironyof rape as a means of purification, God builds up as he tears down. Donne??sreligious principle is revealed in this metaphor, in his shocking request to beravished into chastity. He is a man who is in desperate need of being forgivenand purified by God, a man who sees violence as the only effective means ofdoing so.