What are the unpoetic images that are used in "Batter My Heart" by John Donne?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Your question identifies how the force of this poem is based around the series of incredibly violent images that Donne uses to express his desire for God to "batter his heart" and achieve perfect union with Him. Just looking at this excellent sonnet reveals the high numbers of violent words that are used, built around the paradox that such violence is necessary to achieve Donne's sanctification. Note the following example:

That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

Paradoxically, for Donne to be able to "stand" in the presence of God, he must be broken, blown and burned to be made new. The implied metaphor is that God must treat Donne like a bit of useless metal, that needs to be broken and then burned once more to be useful. However, images of being "o'erthrown" are very unpoetic and aggressive in their tendency. The last image that the poem gives is perhaps the most disturbing of all:

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you'enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Again, note the paradox. To be truly free, we need to be imprisoned by God. We can never be truly chaste either, unless God "ravishes" us. Donne thus deliberately uses a series of unpoetic images with overtones of violence and control to highlight the way that God needs to work in us in order for us to have a relationship with Him.

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