Monday, April 11, 2005

Poem of the Week 4/11/2005: Sonnet 14


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.

John Donne 1663

**unless you make a prisoner of

Hello! Sorry this is late - six hours of rehearsal will do that to a poem of the week... I hope you'll forgive me. This has been one of my favorite poems for a long time, even though I tend to gravitate towards twentieth century poetry. What draws me to it is the energy of the language, the imagery, and (surprise) the paradox. That energy comes from the lists and consonants within the poem (break, blow, burn; break that knot). Now, what the lists contain is interesting, too, because one of the first lists is a deceptively simple one of some of the functions of God: knock (to punish/to judge), breathe (He gave us life), shine (God is glorious, omnipotent, omnitient), and seek to mend (God is, above all, a healer, a love-er). I like that destruction is required to make the man new; he asks God to get rid of the old so the new can grow back. Then, in using "a usurped town" and "viceroy," Donne takes the body of a man as a town, as a whole community. I love that kind of metaphor for a human, because it manages to be encapsulate some of a human's complexity. But my favorite part of the poem is all of the paradox - rampant paradox, really. He asks for heresy (divorce) in order to escape a worse kind of heresy, he will not be free unless he is locked up in God, and he will never be chaste, except when God ravishes him. This, to me, though, does two things. First, it points towards the fact that being locked up and raped by God is better than being technically in line with church morals. It also then questions the importance of the insitution of church next to the institution of faith, the latter being preferred. Furthermore, and I believe that this is the true core of the poem, it hints at the paradoxical nature of God - He is everything, he is all around, and yet he is nowhere, he cannot be seen. I don't think that I can express this as beautifully as Donne does, and I definitely can't after ten million (and by ten million I mean six) hours of rehearsal, but I hope that you all see what I mean. And I also want to put a little disclaimer on this that this poem of the week is in no way intented to be a sermon or religious act. Not like it matters, but anyway. Just thought I would put that out there before I bid you all goodnight!

love sarah

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