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Comment on Donne's "Holy Sonnet XIV"

Selfishness makes for surplus; incompleteness of self makes for a superfluity of what is undesirable in self. Donne wants the superfluous in self to be battered into shape. We feel that we have taken something we don't need to ourselves; and what we don't need is anything not in a true, beautiful relation to everything else in us; to what we are—and honestly can be. The heart can welcome the unnecessary, coddle it. We are aware that we are caged by the inimical untrue as friendly; there is that in us which thinks we need it.—But Donne says, in a sonnet which has been gaining poetic momentum in the last decades, "Batter my heart, three person'd God."
Eli Siegel


From The Critical Muse: Imperative Aesthetic Realism Illustrations
© 1974 by Aesthetic Realism Foundation

    Holy Sonnet XIV

Batter my heart, three person'd 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 an usurped town, to another due,
Labor to admit you, but, oh, 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

The Poems of John Donne, ed. Herbert J. C. Grierson (London: Oxford University Press, 1968), p. 328 (spelling modernized).

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