John Donne's Holy Sonnets Questions and Answers
by John Donne

Start Your Free Trial

Is it possible to enjoy DONNE'S religious poems without sharing his religious beliefs?Discuss plz answer in detail

Expert Answers info

Robert C. Evans eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write2,994 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

This is a splendid question. The short answer is a resounding "yes." The longer answer is more complicated.

It is possible to enjoy Donne's religious poetry even if one disagrees with his religious beliefs if the poems are read as pieces of literature rather than as pieces of religious propaganda.

Consider, for instance, Donne's famous "Holy Sonnet 14," which begins with the words "Batter my heart, three-personed God." There is much to admire about this poem, even if one is not a Christian. Donne's emphatic use of verbs, for instance, breathes a kind of dynamic life into this poem, as in the second line, in which the speaker says that God attempts to "knock, breathe, shine, and seek[s] to mend" his damaged creatures. The list of verbs here is vigorous and compelling, no matter what the "message" of the poem may be, and no matter whether one agrees or disagrees with that message.

Similarly, one need not be a Christian to appreciate the abrupt paradox expressed in line 3: "That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me." Once again the phrasing here is powerful and compelling, catching us by surprise but also winning our admiration for the skill of the style.  The same is true of the next list of emphatic, monosyllabic verbs that appears in line 4, where the speaker implores God to bend his force "to break, blow, burn, and make me new." Here Donne uses heavy alliteration (repetition of the same consonants) in the repeated "b" sound, and he also uses striking assonance (repetition of the same vowel sounds) in the proximity of "break" and "make."

Meanwhile, in the next line, Donne uses a very vivid simile (a comparison using "like" or "as") when the speaker says that he is "like an usurped town" and needs God to penetrate him before he can be free. Similarly, the highly unusual claim, at the very end of the poem, that the speaker can never be free "Nor ever chaste, except you ravish [in other words, "rape"] me is one of the most memorable metaphors Donne ever employed. It is also typical of the sometimes shockingly paradoxical style that makes so many of his poems so difficult to forget.

Anyone who loves literature as literature (that is, as language that calls attention to its own inventive skill and compelling artistry) cannot help but admire the literary craftsmanship of Donne's religious poems, whether or not one agrees with his theological ideas at all.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial