The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 423

“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.

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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 “spirit” literally means “breathe”; the words also allude to God’s spirit breathing over the waters in Genesis); “shine” and “burn” belong to God the Son (incorporating a pun: Christ is both Son and sun). Each subsequent verb used in the verb pairs likewise adds an urgency to the speaker’s pleas. It is not enough for God to mend the sinner; the sinner needs the more violent approach of total annihilation and remaking.

The next four lines focus on the depraved state of the speaker, who has been taken over by the Devil (the “another” in line 5). Even reason, the manifestation of God’s wisdom in man, is captured by the enemy and unable to lead the sinner back to God.

In lines 9 through 12, the speaker admits his love for God but confesses that he has espoused sin (Satan, God’s enemy). Repeating the trinity of supplicating verbs, “Divorce,” “untie,” and “break,” he begs God to divorce him from his relation with sin and to release him from his pact with the Devil.

The couplet brings his petitions to a violent close; the speaker demands that God rape him so that he can be pure.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 524

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...

(The entire section contains 947 words.)

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