John Donne Purify my heart for I have sinned: An Irony In John Donnes Batter my heart, three-personed God; for You, the moral and religious qualms of the speaker are manifest in a sonnet which seems at first almost like an avowal between lovers. These convictions of guilt, which stem from his sexual emotion, are what induce desire for a creator/creation relationship with God. With further analysis, the violent and sexual slant on the relationship is also revealed. The first expression provides the reader with an initial framework for the mood of the poem. Donne says, Batter my heart, (1) This opening word is the first of an upcoming myriad of terms of violence.
The impression given is that the speaker is either a vulnerable and/or masochistic person. However, it becomes evident in the lines ensueing that the speaker is somewhat disconcerted. Batter my heart, three-personed God; for You As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend; That I may rise and stand, oerthrow me, and bend Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new. (1-4) In lines 1 and 3, he is asking God for torment, to be overcome. In lines 2 and 4, he is requesting to be fixed, mended, made new. The speaker is vascillating between the two; he seems indecisive. The verbs in lines 2 and 4 oddly parallel eachother.
They are thematically similar; complementing, but at the same time contradicting. Knock corresponds to break, as breathe does to blow, and so on. Nonetheless these lines allude to the subordinate role that he takes. In line 5, a complication emerges. He is to another due. (5) There is another character in the poem who has seized him by force, like an usurped town.
(5) In the appropriation of a town, the usurper must be the new ruler of the town, the authoritative leader who snatches the reins of power from the original leader. This image of an usurped town makes an interesting metaphor for Satans heist of a mans soul from God. It is the Christian belief that the human spirit, originally owned by God, is at a constant battle with the devil, who in turn provides perpetual temptation to which the Christians fall, and want God to mitigate. The speaker says, Labor to admit You, but Oh, to no end! (6) He desires and works to admit God as the beholder, the controller and owner of his spirit, but the Devils seizure is to no end. His defense of the viceroy in him proves weak and untrue.
(8) A town is also not quite as unyielding as it appears from the outside. We saw from line 1 that the speaker wants to be taken by God. Since he is betrothed unto Gods enemy, he needs for God to break his tie to Satan, and to imprison him so that he would unsusceptible to the Devils domination. Like someone snared in a defective marriage, he must be divorced or untied from the knot. The manner in which Donne describes this depicts the violent nature of how he wants God to rescue him.
He says, Take me to You, imprison me. (12) It is also obvious in his use of harsh verbs- batter, knock, oerthrow, break, blow, burn, usurp, break, imprison. It seems to me that the speaker is so keenly aware of his sins and shortcomings that it is imperative that God not only saves him from his sinful ways, but does so in an intense, brutal manner. It is a role which he wants God to play because he feels the need to be rebuked in two divergent respects; that of the creator and of the restorer. These particular yearnings of treatment demonstate the elevated fervor and passion of his religious conviction, which in this case is accompanied by brutality to recompensate his sins. This passion is implicated with a sexual character.
Batter my heart. (1) In laymans terms it would say hurt me. Interestingly, the word heart during Donnes era had a sexual connotation. (A Dictionary of Shakespeares Sexual Puns and their Significance) This definition does not actually come into play until the concluding lines, where he speaks of being raped by God. Except You enthrall me, never shall be free,/ Nor ever chaste, except You ravish me. (13-14) Donnes choice of words is imperative in ascertaining the sexuality of the poem. The word enthrall means to captivate, charm, and hold in slavery.
The previous and following phrases, imprison me, and never shall be free, (13) indicate that Donne used the word in every meaning. This has both a violent and a sexual slant; he is enslaved forcefully and sexually. This foreshadows the fornication which will take place in the next line. Ravish is a key verb, holding significant meaning. It first seems a mere reference to the act of transporting with strong emotion (esp.
joy). However, upon closer inspection, the multiple meanings of the word create an entirely new perspective on the poem. The other meanings of ravish are to seize and carry off by force, to kidnap, to rape and violate, and in Shakespearian times, to rob, plunder. Donne desired for God to seize him from the usurper, the Devil himself. The aforementioned word chaste, meaning virginal and celibate, bestows coherance on the definition as rape. Referring back to the opening line of the poem, the usage of the word heart as a sexual reference now makes sense. Perhaps it also signifies the vagina; connecting the battering of a heart to a beating of the vagina, to rape.
He is asking God to break him (rape him), to make him new. In the concluding line, the speaker states that he will ever be chaste, except You ravish me. Taken literally, the phrase contradicts itself. How does one claim that he will never be virginal, unless he has been raped? It is apparent here that Donne sees a rape from God as purification, a rebirth of virginity; once again, giving emphasis to his need to be punished for his transgressions. This brings into question the exact nature of Donne s relationship with God, and how and why he is so spiritually dependent on God.
It is almost curious that God seems to be playing all of these differing roles. Donne wants God to be the three-personed God, (1) playing three different roles, the creator/destroyer, restorer/purifier, and raper. The speaker is asking God to purify him, to help him escape Satans grasp, but at the same time he wants to be raped. He wants to be recreated, made new, but at the same time mended, rectified in morals. The whole intent of the poem seems contradictory, but it is very telling of the speakers religious standing.
Donne sees rape as a sort of purification of the soul. It sanctifies chastity rather than annihilating it. He requests this violence to cleanse him of his sinful defilements. He wants God to beat the sin out of him because he is tempted by it. His soul is married to the temptation of the world, to the devil and sin.
Hence, needs God to imprison him because he feels helpless, aimless; he needs direction. However he cannot see himself free from sins deathly grip. This explains the irony of the concluding lines. The entire poem is filled with irony, and fittingly, the poem ends in a contradiction. Analogous to the irony of rape as a means of purification, God builds up as he tears down.
Donnes religious principle is revealed in this metaphor, in his shocking request to be ravished into chastity. He is a man who is in desperate need of being forgiven and purified by God, a man who sees violence as the only effective means of doing so.