Study Guide

Batter my heart (Holy Sonnet 14) Religion

By John Donne

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).

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