John Donne: Poems

The Inseparable Sacred and Profane 12th Grade

Metaphysical poets were concerned with grappling with original and unusual intellectual concepts, and none more so than John Donne, who amalgamates sacred and profane imagery in his verse in order to shock a deeply religious Jacobean audience. In ‘Holy Sonnet: Batter my heart’ profoundly sexual images are used to convey the speaker’s wishes to be free from his sinful tendencies, this is subverted in both ‘The Flea’ and ‘The Canonisation’ in which sacred vocabulary is used in order to coax a lover into submitting to the speaker’s romantic and sexual desires.

In ‘Holy Sonnet: XIV’, the sacred and profane are increasingly indistinguishable from one another as the speaker, through violently sexual language, implores God to free him from a life of sin. Donne’s Holy Sonnets were written from 1607-1609, a period in which Donne was transitioning from Christian denominations of a childhood Catholicism to a stately sanctioned Anglicanism, explaining his intense preoccupation with his sinful nature. Such is demonstrated in the abrupt opening ‘Bater my heart,’ with the use of caesura and dynamic verb heightening the speaker’s desire to be inflicted with physical violence. Indeed, whilst it could be argued that the direct address of God...

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