Among the most noticeable features of devotional poetry of the seventeenth century are meditations on sin, redemption, and salvation. In John Donne's Divine Meditations 4, the speaker wonders if he can ever be worthy of God's grace:
Yet grace, if thou repent, thou canst not lack;
But who shall give thee that grace to begin?
Oh make thyself with holy mourning black,
And red with blushing, as thou art with sin.
In Donne's Divine Meditations 14, the speaker beseeches God to help him rid himself of sin:
Batter my heart, three-personed God; for, you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
Donne became a deacon, and then an Anglican priest in 1615, and though he took Holy Orders, it was only at the insistence of King James I.
George Herbert expresses similar sentiments about sin, redemption, and salvation in some of his poetry. In Easter Wings, for example, the speaker explicitly seeks a connection with God to end his sinful existence and achieve the victory of salvation:
My tender age in sorrow did beginne
And still with sicknesses and shame.
Thou didst so punish sinne,
That I became
Let me combine,
And feel thy victorie:
For, if I imp my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.
Unlike Donne, Herbert had long intended to enter the priesthood. He eagerly took Holy Orders in his thirties and spent the remainder of his life as a rector.
Henry Vaughn is another poet of this period who acknowledges the sinful state of humanity and expresses, through his speaker, an admission of his own sinfulness and a desire to cleanse himself through his devotion to Christ. This can be seen clearly in these lines from Christ's Nativity:
I would I had in my best part
Fit rooms for thee! or that my heart
Were so clean as
Thy manger was!
But I am all filth, and obscene;
Yet, if thou wilt, thou canst make clean.
Vaughn credited Herbert with inspiring both his religious conversion and his devotional poetry, and there are similarities in the two poets' works.