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Analysis of Holy Sonnet XIV

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Analysis of Holy Sonnet XIV

Throughout history, many people have endeavoured to convey their
interpretations, or experiences, of the relationship between God and
mankind. Many interpretations are positive - Psalm 139 of the Bible,
for example, portrays the relationship between man and God as a
personal and intimate one - yet just as many are decidedly negative.
One such interpretation is Holy Sonnet XIV, an intensely personal poem
by John Donne which explores the feelings of a man torn between
physical desire and spiritual longing. In this essay I aim to study
the poem in more depth, analysing what Donne says and how he says it.

Holy Sonnet XIV was written at a time of crisis and confusion in
Donne's life; a time when he was torn between spiritual longing for
religion and holiness, and physical passion. The poem conveys a
feeling of utmost ambivalence - at one point, Donne expresses his
feelings toward God in the line "Yet dearly I love you", yet this
profession comes just one line after his description of Jesus as
"weak" and "untrue". In fact, the poem is addressed to God Himself,
with Donne commanding Him to "batter" his heart, take control of every
aspect of his life and reform him from deep within.

The poem begins with Donne commanding God to "Batter my heart".
Instantly, Donne is telling God (described as "three person'd" an
allusion to the Trinity) to break into his life. The word "batter" is
very harsh, emphasising the brutality of the action which Donne is
commanding God to perform. This brutality is further emphasised by the
fact that Donne asks God to batter his heart, something which is seen
as very fragile and tend...

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...17th Century Persephone. The two stories do seem to run almost
parallel - his initial bond with Satan akin to her fateful eating of
the pomegranate; his imprisonment under Satan similar to her
relationship with Hades; them both becoming shadows of their former
selves (until Donne asks for God's help and until Persephone's yearly
reuniting with her parents); their not dissimilar desires and longings
(Donne's longing for spiritual fulfilment and a life with God;
Persephone's longing for life with her parents - both longings for
tranquillity and goodness). This comparison - between an ancient Greek
myth and a poem written in the 17th Century - goes to show that Holy
Sonnet XIV is a remarkable achievement: a poem that manages to be both
intensely personal yet has the ability to be read and interpreted on a
universal level.

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