Batter my heart, three-personed God Analysis

John Donne

The Poem

“Batter my heart, three-personed God” is a sonnet, a short lyric poem of fourteen lines. In the Renaissance, two kinds of sonnets were popular. The Shakespearean, or English, sonnet has three quatrains, rhyming abab, cdcd, efef, and a final couplet, rhyming gg, which usually contains a short statement of the theme. The Petrarchan, or Italian, sonnet is divided into an octave rhyming abbaabba, and a sestet rhyming cdecde; the sestet moves from the questions, causes, or complaints presented in the octave to answers, effects, or resolutions.

John Donne combines both forms in his Holy Sonnet sequence; his octave uses the abbaabba rhyme scheme of the Italian sonnet, while his sestet rhymes cdcdee, the rhyme scheme of the English sonnet. The couplet usually contains a thematic affirmation of man’s sinfulness and God’s love for humanity.

The poem uses a first-person narrator. This speaker (not necessarily Donne) is a Christian man trying to come to terms with his own unworthiness in the face of God’s never-ending love. In the first four lines, the anguished speaker begs God to make him a new man. He calls God a “three-personed God” and uses a parallel series of verbs to reflect the three persons of the Trinity. “Knock” and “break” belong to God the Father (representing power); “breathe” and “blow” belong to the Holy Spirit (the Latin root of...

(The entire section is 423 words.)

Forms and Devices

This sonnet employs metaphor and simile, the figurative language of comparison, to illustrate the anguished state of the speaker and his desire to free soul, mind, and body from the captivity of sin. The force of the comparison lies in its power to surprise and instruct by yoking distinctly different ideas or images together.

Donne’s power to startle by pairing disparate ideas and images in his metaphors and similes is one of the hallmarks of his strong poetic voice; his figurative language asks from the reader a bold leap in imagination and involves a mental translation that often brings a deeper understanding of the theme of the particular lines. The metaphors and similes in “Batter my heart” are no exception.

In the first four lines, the Trinity is metaphorically compared with a tinker, or metalsmith, who, instead of trying to patch the kettle (the sinner), is asked to create a new kettle by completely destroying the old.

The comparison in lines 5 through 8, this time a simile, focuses on the sinner himself. He is like a town that has been unlawfully taken (usurped) by the Devil. The reasoning power of his mind, likened to God’s governor, is also captured and unable to break the bonds of captivity. Although God is outside the gate, the sinner is too weak to hear God’s knocking: “Behold I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he...

(The entire section is 524 words.)