Discuss the body - soul dichotomy in the poems of John Donne.

Expert Answers
thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The relationship between body and soul in John Donne is complex. In all of his works, the account of the nature of body and soul is Christian, with the soul being immortal and the body mortal. Donne was strongly aware of the body as subject to corruption and decay after death. However, the body is not present simply as a source of Original Sin, but rather as both a path to sin and a starting point for human desire, which can be transmuted into spiritual longing.

Unlike many other poets of the period, John Donne does not always give a strongly dualistic account of body and soul in opposition, with the soul trapped in the body. Instead, in Donne, the soul has an inherent affection for the body. Sexual love, especially in Donne's earlier works, can often lead to some form of spiritual awakening, in a sort of argument reminiscent of Plato's Symposium

In his later poems, which are more directly concerned with theology, the sexual overlay still remains as a metaphor; for example, in "Batter my heart, three-person'd God" the notion of irresistible grace is figured as a form of rape.