The two poems “Death, Be Not Proud” and “Batter My Heart, three-person'd God” are part of a series of nineteen poems called the Holy Sonnets, published in 1663, two years after John Donne’s death. Donne is remembered among other Metaphysical poets of the time, such as George Herbert, who were often concerned with religious themes. Donne’s poetry was influenced by his own religious identity. In the period that he wrote these poems, he was in a state of religious transformation, converting from Catholicism to Anglicanism and considering joining the priesthood.
In writing about Donne’s treatment of religious themes in these two poems, you may choose to compare the two sonnets. You may consider the specific topics each poem addresses—death and the individual’s relationship with God. Another option would be to explore the similarities in the structure of the sonnets and how the form influences meaning. In fact, the sonnet echoes the three-part structure of a form of meditation espoused by the founder of the Jesuit Order, 16th century Spanish priest Saint Ignatius of Loyola, an influence on Donne’s work and spiritual life.
An area worthy of exploration could be the distinct tones of each piece. The speaker of “Death, Be Not Proud” has a brash, almost bullying attitude in how he addresses death. By contrast, the speaker of “Batter My Heart, three-person'd God” has some of Donne’s characteristic boldness, but this time tempered with more humility and longing.
Donne’s Holy Sonnets provide ample opportunity to explore how his treatment of religious themes in the 17th century still has relevance for readers today.
*See links below for more in-depth analysis of these two poems.