Compare Donne's Holy Sonnets to Milton's Sonnets on his blindness and his deceased wife. All of these poems deal either overtly or implicitly with Christian themes. What are these themes? Which of these poems are the most powerful and why? Which ones hold relevant messages for modern readers and why? Do you think the sonnet structure contributes in any way to the effectiveness of these poems?

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Though both Donne and Milton deal with the Christian themes of sin, forgiveness and salvation, the two poets present these themes in different ways, and there is a sharp difference in tone between each man's mode of expressing himself. Donne is obsessed with his own sinfulness and tends to view God as an antagonist who must conquer Donne's rebellious spirit. This is true especially in the sonnet "Batter my heart, three-personed God." Donne also uses sexual imagery here and in other religious poems. The impudent, defiant tone of his love poetry is not restricted to his secular verse, and he emphasizes, in the Holy Sonnets, his sinfulness and fear of not being granted God's mercy. The awesome terror of Judgment Day is frequently alluded to, as in "What if this present were the world's last night?" and in "At the round earth's imagined corners." As always in Donne, the imagery is complex and elaborately metaphorical, and the conceits are typical of the Metaphysicals, namely, himself, Marvell, Vaughan, Cowley and others.

Milton's poems are from a later time when tastes had changed and both the conceits and the relative sexual explicitness of the metaphysical poets had gone out of style. Milton's Puritanism is also a factor in his use of a more sober and restrained type of expression. He uses classical imagery more frequently than Donne,

Methought I saw my late espoused saint

Brought to my like Alcestis from the grave.

In some sense, his overall tone is quietly regretful and more personal than Donne's tone given the allusions to his blindness. Though Donne expresses his own feelings, they could just as easily be interpreted as those of an everyman, an archetype of the sinner pleading for God's mercy. The extent to which Milton focuses on the personal tragedy of his blindness extends even to Paradise Lost, and it has been the object of criticism by twentieth-century commentators who found various things in his verse objectionable. In all, Donne, in the almost violent nature of his religious poetry, seems closer to the modern mindset.

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