A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, March 1, 2010

Poem of the Day: John Donne

From Holy Sonnets 

14 
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. 
I, like an usurped town, to'another due, 
Labor 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 lovéd fain, 
But am betrothed 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 

When I posted yesterday's poem, it put me in mind of this one. Not just because of the powerfully emotional religious content (it is as much a "terrible sonnet" as Hopkins's is a "Holy Sonnet"), but because Donne's experiments with verse anticipate those of Hopkins by 250 years or so. The marks ['] that indicate the linkage of one vowel sound to another, to keep the pentameter line, for example: 
Yet dear | ly'I love | You,'and would | be lov | éd fain  
And the harshness of the diction: 
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend
These are verbal tactics that shocked the poets of the eighteenth century, and which we don't see again until Blake and, later, Browning. Yet Donne is as much a master of innovation as Hopkins, and perhaps as much an inimitable poet. Of course, what makes this uniquely Donne is the mingling of sexual violence -- of rape, in a word -- with religious imagery. Hopkins flirted with such things but, perhaps because of his own sexual insecurity, never used them with such raw power as Donne.