Study Guide

Batter my heart (Holy Sonnet 14) Quotes

  • Religion

    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. (lines 1-4)

    As discussed in the "Detailed Summary," the verbs "knock, breathe shine" and "break, blow, burn" all might apply to the three members of the Holy Trinity (the "three-personed God"). In fact, each of them seems to plausibly apply to more than one member of the Trinity, perhaps suggesting that Donne isn't sure whom to address, or just knows they will all work together.

    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. (lines 1-4)

    It takes him four full lines, but the speaker finally gets to the point of why he tells God to do all this. His goal, as he puts it, is to "rise" and "stand" and be made "new." Now this works in two ways. First, the speaker asks to have a moment of religious epiphany in his life so that he can rise up and live a virtuous life. That is, he wants to recognize God's power, but he worries that the only way God will get through to him is by doing something violent and overthrowing his life as he knows it.

    On the other hand, "make me new" may be a reference to the Christian idea that true happiness and salvation only come after death, and that, in order to "rise" and get into Heaven, you have to suffer in your earthly life: "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal." (John 12:24-25). That's why the speaker wants to suffer in the earthly world, so that he will be worthy of the afterlife.

    But am betroth'd unto your enemy, (line 10)

    The easiest way to unpack this idea of an "enemy" is to use the religion angle. Who's the bad guy whenever you're talking to God? Well, there are two options: first, if you feel really guilty, it could be you, and so the speaker could suggest that he cares more about himself than about God. Then, of course, there's the big daddy of bad guys, the Devil, who might sucker the speaker into an agreement.

    Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again, (line 11)

    The "again" might refer to that other major moment when God needed to untie people and break their knot: when he banishes Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden for eating from the Tree of Knowledge.

    Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
    Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
    Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. (lines 12-14)

    Check out the "Detailed Summary" and the second "Quote" in this section for more on this, but remember that in many branches of Christianity, suffering in life is a key step for getting into Heaven. This all comes from the Bible, and especially the passage: "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal." (John 12:24-25).

  • Love

    Batter my heart, three-person'd God; (line 1)

    Check out how much the speaker packs into those first three words. "Batter" gives us the violence and warfare angle, but "heart" is an even more interesting word choice. If the speaker's just gunning for eternal salvation, you'd think he'd say, "Batter my soul, three-person'd God," because it's the soul that really needs to get turned around in order for him to get in to Heaven. What's the heart got to do with it?

    Well, we admit that "heart" can be a metaphor for "soul," but there's so much more to it. The heart, of course, is actually part of your body, and in the context of love, "heart" tends to have a more down-to-earth connotation than the more spiritual "soul." When the speaker uses "heart," then, he shows us quickly that this poem isn't just going to be about a spiritual conversion. This is a physical, corporeal kind of love.

    Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain, (line 9)

    Here, at the turn, the speaker finally admits his love, but that second clause is a bit odd. He says he would be happy if God loves him, but don't you think it would make more sense to say, "Yet dearly I love you, and hope you love me"? Isn't it a little presumptuous to say, "Sure, I'd be happy to be loved - lay it on me"?

    But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
    Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again, (lines 10-11)

    There's a lot in these two lines, but from the love angle, we'll just point out that a betrothal is an unusual metaphor for the speaker, since people don't often get engaged without mutual consent. You'd think the speaker could say "captured" or something else to suggest that he is conned into a deal with Satan. As it is, this is a big admission – he willingly falls into the enemy's hands. It's also interesting that, at some point, he agrees to marriage with the Devil, but he doesn't really agree to marriage with God, so much as to a different kind of encounter.

    Take me to you, imprison me, for I, Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. (lines 12-14)

    Considering what we saw in the "Quote" above (lines 10-11), it's interesting that, at some point, the speaker agrees to marry the Satan, while here, he doesn't agree to marriage with God so much as a more sexual encounter. Shouldn't Satan be the one who "imprisons?"

  • Sex

    o'erthrow me, and bend
    Your force (lines 3-4)

    One could read these lines as a description of a lead-up to sex.

    Labour to admit you (line 6)

    This line could be interpreted sexually.

    Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
    Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. (lines 13-14)

    Finally, we get to the part of the poem where it is difficult to ignore the sexual connotations. Even if enthrall ("fill with delight") doesn't convince you, "ravish" probably does. See the "Detailed Summary," the "Sex Rating" section for more.

  • Violence

    Batter my heart, three-person'd God (line 1)

    Check out the first "Quote" from the "Religion" theme for the other side of this, but "batter" is an interesting word choice. When you batter a gate or door, the whole point is to demolish it and make it useless for its intended purpose. On one hand, the word suggests that the speaker wants his heart completely destroyed, and on the other, he also suggests that his heart is designed to keep God out. But, could that be true? If God has created his heart, as the speaker surely believes, why would God design it to keep God out?

    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. (lines 2-4)

    Here's the best expression of the speaker's wish for brutal violence against him. The speaker wants God to "break, blow, burn" and "o'erthrow" instead of "knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend." Fair enough – instead of being timid and curative, God should be violent and destructive. So, here's the key question: what does he actually want to happen? Does he really want his physical heart to be battered? Because that would be bad news.

    So, one imagines the speaker is using a metaphor – he doesn't want to be physically broken, but does that mean that he wants his soul to be broken? That is, where should God direct all of this violence? If the answer is his soul, what does that mean? We don't have an answer, and that's in large part because it doesn't seem like the speaker has an answer either. He knows he wants some sort of reminder from God, but he doesn't quite know how to put it.

    Take me to you, imprison me, for I
    Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, (lines 12-13)

    Here, the speaker seems to bring back the castle siege metaphor one last time, but this is important to the violence theme, as it presents such an obvious contradiction. How God's imprisonment can lead to freedom is the same kind of question that we've been asking along: "Why does the speaker want God to be violent towards him?" This all reminds us again that violence and aggressive behavior aren't necessarily bad things in this poem, so long as it's God who does them.

    Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. (line 14)

    Nothing too profound here, but we wanted to point out that "ravish" doesn't imply some simple friendly romp through the hay. "Ravish" implies that this sex (metaphorical or otherwise) is violent or aggressive.

  • Warfare

    I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
    Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
    Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
    But is captived, and proves weak or untrue. (lines 5-8)

    See the "Detailed Summary" for more, but it's worth noting here that it's hard to tell who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. To whom is the town due, and who usurped it in the first place? If reason is God's viceroy, did God capture it, or did some other party take it away? We'll see this issue again in the next quote of this section, and it's a major thematic strain in the poem.

    But am betroth'd unto your enemy, (line 10)

    When we try to understand wars, it is central to recognize the identities of the parties at war. But, in the battle over the speaker's soul, we can't figure out who's fighting against God. This can be frustrating for us as readers, although we suspect this is the same crisis that the speaker suffers: he doesn't know who has captured him, and he also doesn't know who exactly to get in touch with to help him, as evidenced by his confusion over the nature of the Trinity. (See the discussion of the "three-personed God" in the "Detailed Summary" and "Quotes" in the "Religion" theme).

    Take me to you, imprison me, for I
    Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, (lines 12-13)

    Here, the speaker seems to bring back the castle siege metaphor one last time, and rekindles the debate we had earlier about who captures (or imprisons) the town in the first place. Again, the speaker refuses to make things clear: first asking God to imprison him, but only so that he can be free. This passage reminds us again that violence and aggressive behavior aren't necessarily bad things in this poem, so long as it's God who's doing them.