The Bible

Irresolution of Paradox in Donne's "Batter My Heart"

Irresolution of Paradox in Donne’s “Batter My Heart”

John Donne’s “Holy Sonnet XIV” is filled with Biblical imagery and language suggestive of Psalmic platitude.

Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you

As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;

That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee,’and bend

Your force, to breake, blow, burn and make me new. (Donne 1-4)

This imagery is consistent with statements made throughout the Bible like Hebrews 12:6—“For whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives.” The analogy of the speaker as a wayward spouse “betroth’d unto your [God’s] enemie” (Donne 10) is also evocative of distinctly Biblical language and the marriage metaphors used throughout the Old Testament prophets and the Pauline epistles. Arthur Clements has pointed out that even the association of “knocke, breathe, shine” with “break, blow, burn” is specifically Biblical in its language. There are two points within the poem, though, where the biblical language is disturbed by novel ideas that are both intriguing and perplexing. Ambiguity in a sonnet is most certainly not a device pioneered by Donne, but the significance of the theological issues dealt with in his holy sonnets make Donne’s use...

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