“Batter My Heart, Three-Personed God” is one of nineteen sonnets that Donne wrote after taking orders in the Anglican Church. Earlier in his life, before his marriage and ordination, he wrote some fifty-five poems published in Songs and Sonnets, but none of these is technically a sonnet. The latter sonnets that he wrote as an Anglican priest, however, are true sonnets, and they display Donne’s continuing love of wit and paradoxes but also his deepening concern about his relationship to God.
“Batter My Heart, Three-Personed God” is a fairly typical sonnet. It has fourteen lines, and the metrical scheme is iambic pentameter, five feet to a line; each foot contains an unstressed and a stressed syllable. The rhyme scheme is abba, abba, cdcd, ee, not the only sonnet rhyme sequence but a common one. The poem, typical of many sonnets, is made up of an octet: The first eight lines have the same rhyme scheme and develop a single image, in this poem, the image of a city under siege. The last six lines form a sestet, the first four lines having a consistent rhyme scheme and their own image, that of a marital relationship. The last two lines of the sestet form a couplet; they rhyme with each other and bring together the thought of the octet and the sestet.
As Donne matured and as his image changed from that of Jack Donne, man-about-town, to that of John Donne, dean of St. Paul’s, his poetry also changed, as this poem shows. After he took Holy Orders, he directed his love poetry not to women but to God. He tempered the sardonic indifference of some of his earlier poetry with the submissiveness of faith, and the shocking conceits of his earlier writing soften. Yet his...
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