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

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What is important to include when writing an essay about the representation of divine in Donne's Holy Sonnets?

When writing an essay on the representation of the divine in Donne's Holy Sonnets, it is important to include a discussion of the demands that faith places upon the poet. On reading the sonnets, one gets the distinct impression that Donne's faith is at times more of a challenge than a comfort. On the whole, faith is presented as incredibly difficult to maintain, engaged as it is in a constant struggle against the poet's personal anxieties.

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The representation of the divine in Donne's "Holy Sonnets" presents us with a picture of God as a stern, unbending taskmaster who places considerable demands on the devout believer. And in many of the sonnets, Donne finds it hard to deal with those demands.

One has only to think of "Batter my heart, three-personed God", where Donne begs for God to come and break down the door of his sinful heart and save him from himself. It's clear in this poem, as elsewhere in the "Holy Sonnets," that Donne finds it hard to cope with the demands that faith imposes upon him, and so requires God's freely-given grace to rescue him from his torment.

There is a notably dramatic tone to many of the sonnets. Conflict of one kind or another is the essence of drama, and there is plenty of conflict to be observed in the sonnets as Donne manfully attempts to overcome his many moral failings and personal anxieties in devoting himself to God. Donne is acutely aware that he's a sinner, and yet he must somehow come to terms with his sinfulness if he's to do right by the Almighty.

But this is easier said than done, and so Donne finds himself fretting about what will happen to him after his death. The tone of "Death, be not proud" may be defiant, but there's an awful lot of fear beneath the defiance. Even though Donne is a man of faith, it would appear that the demands of that faith are so onerous that they cannot provide him with any real comfort in the face of his inevitable demise. And Donne's personal faith is so shaky, so uncertain, that it is incapable of stiffening his resolve when he needs it most. Instead, he's reduced to shaking his fist at Death in an unconvincing effort to show that he isn't afraid of it.

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