Friday, October 23, 2009

Holy Violence


This week, in our Brit Lit I class, we studied the works of John Donne. I've loved his poetry ever since I first read it for my own undergraduate British Literature class--it's so shocking, so beautiful, so different from the poetry that comes before it, especially the religious poetry.


We laughed over his carpe diem poem "The Flea," and we all appreciated the conceits in his "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," but the poem that engendered the most discussion was this one:


HOLY SONNETS. XIV.

Batter my heart, three-person'd 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.

I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,

Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,

But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,

But am betroth'd unto your enemy;

Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.


Not every student liked it, of course. But most did. And not just in a "That's an okay poem" kind of way. The fervor of the poem was mirrored in their responses to it. In a world full of bland clich├ęs about God, the idea of someone longing for Him enough to beg for his violent posession holds a strange attraction.

I love classes like that.

1 comment:

lisa b said...

There are not words to describe how much I love this poem, so I won't even try.

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE

The second part just amazes me:

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,

But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,

But am betroth'd unto your enemy;

Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.


John Donne was a genius.