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Batter my heart (Holy Sonnet 14) In A Nutshell

Holy Sonnet 14 is one of John Donne's series of Holy Sonnets. No one is sure when he wrote them, but some guess it's around 1618. Holy Sonnet 14 is one of his most famous and often-studied poems. In fact, if you only read one of Donne's poems, this is probably the place to go, since it's got a clever extended metaphor (a "metaphysical conceit" if you want the fancy term), and it covers the major recurrent theme in Donne's poetry a possibly conflicting passion for both carnal and divine love.

Donne wrote this poem at an important time in his life, as he was just ordained in the Church of England. Donne has an interesting relationship with religion. He was born a Roman Catholic, and being Roman Catholic in late 16th century England guaranteed persecution. As a young man, Donne didn't seem particularly interested in religion, but he soon realized that the path to a successful life could be found in the Church of England. As he became more involved in the Church, he became considerably more focused on his own spirituality and relationship with God. If you're inclined to read the poem biographically, Holy Sonnet 14 represents the peak of Donne's conflict between secular and religious lives, and his efforts to reconcile his newfound sacred love with the more familiar, earthly variety.

Why Should I Care?

It's something you hear all the time: folks love God. On the surface that sounds great, but think about it for a second:

what does that really mean?

If you've ever stopped to ponder the difference between love of the Divine, and love of, say, Twinkies, or maybe your main squeeze, then this is the poem for you. John Donne is wondering along these lines in his poem, trying to find a way to swap common, earthly love for the more spiritual kind.

Wait a minute, you might say, don't we love everything with the same heart? Can one sort of love be better than another? Well, this is precisely the question that Donne is wrestling with. He seems to see a love of God as the purest kind of affection (more perfect than your fondness for Twinkies even), and yet there is a whole host of more worldly things to love that get in the way of this higher love (Hit it Steve!).

Really, this is something that we all struggle with. Even for those of you who aren't religious, we bet that you have some kind of ideal or goal in your life that is beset with distractions and sidetracks. Just what does it take to reach the next level (besides mad joystick skills, yo)?

That's question that we'll all ask at some point in our lives, which is what makes this poem so worthwhile. Don't be put off by the old-timey language and religious metaphors. Donne was onto something that we can all relate to, whichnot unlike a Twinkie, friendsis pretty sweet.

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.

Batter my heart (Holy Sonnet 14) Summary

The speaker begins by asking God (along with Jesus and the Holy Ghost; together, they are the Trinity that makes up the Christian "three-personed God") to attack his heart as if it were the gates of a fortress town. The speaker wants God to enter his heart aggressively and violently, instead of gently. Then, in line 5, the speaker explicitly likens himself to a captured town. He tries to let God enter, but has trouble because the speaker's rational side seems to be in control.

At the "turn" of the poem (see the "Form and Meter" section for more on the importance of the sonnet form and, specifically, the "turn"), the speaker admits that he loves God, and wants to be loved, but is tied down to God's unspecified "enemy" instead, whom we can think of as Satan, or possibly "reason." The speaker asks God to break the speaker's ties with the enemy, and to bring the speaker to Him, not letting him go free. He then explains why he wants all of this, reasoning with double meanings: he can't really be free unless God enslaves and excites him, and he can't refrain from sex unless God carries him away and delights him.

Lines 1-2

Batter my heart, three-person'd God; for you As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;

The speaker begins by asking God (along with Jesus and the Holy Ghost; together, they make up the "three- personed God") to attack his heart as if it were the gates of a fortress town.

If you are caught up on the word "batter," note that back in medieval times, in order to break down the door of a fortress or castle, you'd have to use a battering ram. It's a huge pole of wood, possibly with a ram carving on the front.

He asks God to "batter" his heart, as opposed to what God has been doing so far: just knocking, breathing, shining, and trying to help the speaker heal.

Those actions are nice and all, but Donne wants something a little more intense. Scholars focus a lot on these verbs, and the words are certainly stressed in the line (notice how you accent these verbs and pause between them when you read the poem out loud), so let's break them down a bit.

First of all, none of the verbs are particularly active. God asks to come in by knocking, which is nice, but he also just breathes and shines, two things that he might do out of necessity not choice. When we breathe, it's normally not because we choose to, and the same applies to things that shine.

The "mending" seems nice, but note that Donne says "seek to mend," and not just "mend." Does God really "seek to" do anything? Doesn't He just do it, if he's all-powerful?

So, what about the specific actions? Are they particularly significant? Well lots of scholars think that the three verbs mirror the set-up of a "three-personed God" (the Christian notion of the Trinity). Thus, they associate the Father with power as he knocks but ought to break, the Holy Ghost with breath as he breathes but ought to blow like a strong wind, and the Son with light as he shines but ought to burn like fire.

These actions make some sense as representative actions of each part of God, but other scholars argue that, based on the Bible, it isn't clear which member of the Trinity should be understood to do which of the actions. The confusion about which aspect of God does what appears to be purposeful.

If

the speaker wants to make things easier, he can very well put the verbs in the traditional order in which the

Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are normally described.

But, the Trinity isn't the only way to read those verbs. Some scholars point out that these terms (especially when combined with the other series of three verbs in line 4) all make sense in the context of metal- or glass- blowing (the process of shaping glass and metal objects). In this way, scholars see the speaker as making God into a craftsman who can, like a glassblower, "blow" life into the object (the speaker).

Lines 3-4

That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

Lines 3-4 continue much like lines 1-2, with the speaker asking God to treat him violently.

He asks God to "bend your force," which may mean to "make use of your power."

More importantly, even though it takes him four full lines, the speaker finally gets to the point of why he's telling God to do all this. His goal, as he puts it, is to "rise" and "stand" and become "new."

This can work in two ways. First, there's the born-again angle, where the speaker asks to have a moment of religious epiphany. He wants to recognize God's power, but he worries that the only way God will get through to him is by doing something violent and completely overthrowing his life.

On the other hand, "make me new" is probably a reference to the Christian idea that true happiness and salvation come only after death, and that, in order to get into Heaven, earthly life must be a continual act of suffering. That may be why our speaker wants to be abused and broken in the earthly world so that he will be worthy for the afterlife.

A

quick note on the language here: read these lines aloud, and notice how the word "o'erthrow" makes you

take a big pause and change the rhythm of your speaking, and how violent and intense those alliterated b- words are ("break, blow, burn"). These words get a lot of attention verbally, and it's a cool example of words' sounds reflecting their meaning. Onomatopoeia anyone?

Lines 5-6

I, like an usurp'd town, to another due, Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.

Here comes the explanation of that whole "battering" business. The speaker compares himself to a town that

is

captured or "usurped."

The phrase "to another due" suggests that the town belongs to someone else, but it's tricky because we don't know who this "someone" could be.

Whose was it originally, and who took over? The likely possibility is that it was originally God's, and it was subsequently taken over by another, but that doesn't help us figure out who the "other" is.

In any case, the speaker wants to let God in, but he's unsuccessful so far.

These lines are interesting in part because, unlike anywhere else in the rest of the poem, Donne actually uses

a

simile here instead of a metaphor. Instead of saying, "I am a usurped town," he leaves more room between

himself and the town by only saying that they're similar.

What's the big deal? Well, it suggests that the speaker is conscious of how unrealistic his requests are. Where, in the first few lines he directs God to overthrow, break, blow, and burn him, it's not until this line that we know he's being metaphorical (instead of actually wanting to be broken, burned, and so forth).

The "oh" in line 6 is another linguistic choice worth mentioning. There are two ways we might see this:

First, we can read it as the only moment of truly honest self-expression in the poem, where the speaker lets his words go without careful control. In other words, the "oh" is the only word in the poem that isn't actually a word it's more of a sound, a sigh, or an exclamation. It's a different kind of language, and one we don't see elsewhere in the poem.

If

we read it as a sigh, it might lend this line some extra emotional pull if he seems sad that he can't let God in.

On the other hand, you might think the "oh" is theatrical and overly dramatic, like a "woe-is-me!" moment.

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend, But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.

Our bet is that these are the trickiest lines in the poem for you. Us too. They're weird, but it helps to put them into simple English: "Reason, my local ruler who works for you, should be defending me, but he was captured, and revealed himself to be weak or unfaithful."

We assume that the "you" to whom Reason is supposed to report is God.

The whole idea guiding these lines is that God gave us reason (rationality) to defend ourselves from evil, but now the speaker's reason seems to have turned on God (or is just incapable of warding off evil), so the speaker is having trouble showing his faith in God.

As we discuss in the "Speaker" section, the sense of entitlement is interesting. Check out the back-to-back "me's" and the "should" in "Reason your viceroy in me, me should defend." It's all about the speaker's self- interest, and he sounds like a spoiled little kid: "Me! Me! You should defend me!"

And, if we zoom out a bit, why on earth is he treating his ability to reason as if it were a real person? The answer may be: so that he can pass the buck and blame this other person (who's really God's responsibility, according to the speaker).

If you think about it, the speaker actually blames God, through his representative (Reason) for the speaker turning over to the enemy's side.

Lines 9-10

Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain, But am betroth'd unto your enemy;

When you get to line 9 of a sonnet, you know that you have to do a little extra work, since the ninth line of a sonnet traditionally marks the "turn" in the poem, where the problem set up in the first 8 lines begins to move towards a solution.

To be honest, though, this line doesn't make for much of a turn at all. The simile of the fortress ends here (until it's picked up again at "imprison"), but this line, like those before it, mainly furthers the development of the speaker's desired relationship with God.

He hints at no solution, but the line does mark a shift in tone. The speaker seems to be a bit more candid and personal here, and he abandons some of the similes and metaphors that he uses before. "Yet dearly I love you" is the most straightforward line we've had so far.

"And would be loved fain," though, is a continuation of the kind of self-centeredness we see in lines 7-8. He's saying "I'd be happy to be loved," just like you'd tell a friend "I'd be happy to help" he makes it sound a little like he's doing God a favor.

What's more, the speaker quickly drops the straight-talk, and goes back into another metaphor: he says he's "betroth'd," or engaged to marry, the "enemy."

This word "enemy" is troublesome, because we don't know who it is. There's no one right answer here, but our speaker may be referring to Satan.

The question is, why did the speaker choose the metaphor of a wedding engagement? Why didn't he just say, "I'm under the Devil's control, so help free me?"

Perhaps an engagement implies that the speaker is cool with the whole thing and isn't forced into this relationship with the enemy. Unlike in lines 5-8, where the speaker blamed Reason for losing touch with God, here he seems to suggest that it is actually kind of his fault, since he agrees to an engagement with the "enemy."

Lines 11-12

Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again, Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Line 11 continues the train of thought in line 10, asking God to help him get out of this close engagement with the enemy. He wants God to help him break the wedding "knot" he tied when he was "betroth'd," and take him away from the enemy.

What's absolutely key here is the word "again" does it mean this isn't the first time the speaker needed to ask God for help in getting away from the Devil?

All of a sudden, we learn that these pleas to God may be a frequent occurrence. This can have a major impact on our understanding of the poem. The speaker begins to look less like a poor guy who's all-of-a-sudden blurting out his love for God the only way he knows how -- and more like a con-artist who makes it seem like he's desperately in need, when, in fact, he's been down this road a number of times.

But, instead of thinking that the speaker has wanted a wedding knot broken before, we might read "again" as referring to another time when God had to break a knot. (As if the speaker were saying, "Sorry, God, you have to go through that whole knot-breaking thing again.")

By this logic, "again" could be a reference to the moment in Genesis (in the Old Testament) when God expels Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden because they follow Satan’s advice. This way, when the speaker says, "Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again," he seems to say "either divorce/untie me from Satan, or you'll have to break the knot between us, just as you did with Adam."

In line 12 (and on into line 13), the speaker seems to bring back the castle siege metaphor one last time with "imprison," and rekindles the earlier debate about who had captured (or imprisoned) the town in the first place.

Here, again, the speaker refuses to make things clear, first asking God to imprison him, but only so that he can be free. This all goes back to the Christian idea that a human must to suffer in order to get to Heaven, and reminds us again that violence and aggressive behavior aren't necessarily bad things in this poem, so long as God is in the driver’s seat.

Lines 13-14

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

These last two lines make it clear that the speaker loves those paradoxes and double meanings that we

, fills in that first blank with double entendres (words or phrases with two possible meanings).

struggle with all along. Both lines take the form of "If you don't

I can't be

," but the speaker

The first can be read as "If you don't excite me, I can't be free." If we read it that way, it's possible that "excite" has sexual connotations, and this makes sense in light of the following line.

But, we can also read line 13 as, "If you don't enslave me, I can't be free." Back in the day, "enthrall" would also mean "enslave," so we should be aware of that possibility.

We can read line 14 as, "If you don't fill me with delight, I will never be able to refrain from sex." Like "excite" in line 13, "fill me with delight" in this reading might carry some sexual connotations.

Confusing, right? These lines leave us with some major paradoxes, refusing to pin down exactly what the speaker wants from God.

As we see it, it seems that the speaker wants better access to God, and having been unsuccessful in the past, demands that God reveal himself forcefully and powerfully.

In other words, the only way the speaker and his stubborn "reason" will be convinced of God's power is to see an epic example of it. What's more, the speaker desperately wants to be convinced, so he can be “saved.”

Still, it's hard to make the last line fit, mainly because you can't really become chaste. Either the speaker is and always has been chaste, in which case he wouldn't have to worry about it, or he's had sex but now wants to abstain.

But, if he wants to abstain, is more sex really the prescription?

And, if he wants this divine sexual encounter so much, then wouldn't that contradict the idea that it is "rape"?

In the end, then, we might come to the conclusion that talking about God in human terms and metaphors actually doesn't make sense. The kinds of rewards and interactions that God can provide simply can't be described properly in human language, and that's why the speaker gets so caught up in paradox and mixed metaphors.

The Besieged Town Symbol Analysis

The besieged town is the dominant symbol in the poem, and it's a confusing one. The speaker likens himself to a town that has been taken over, but he wants God to attack the town in order to capture it. Actually, if we're being technical, when the speaker says he's "like an usurp'd town," he actually makes a simile, but by using the simile throughout the rest of the poem without making an explicit comparison elsewhere, we can safely call the whole thing an extended metaphor.

So, aside from the request that he be attacked (if he's the town, is it really such a good thing if the town is assaulted?), there's also the confusion about who "usurped" this town in the first place. We might think it's the "enemy" from line 10, but that's not helpful because we don't know who the enemy is, unless it's just that general enemy of God, Satan. The real problem, as we see it, is the line: "Reason your viceroy in me, me should defend, / But is captived, and proves weak or untrue" (lines 7-8).

First of all, why is reason described as a viceroy, when the speaker just compared himself to a captured city? Wouldn't that make reason the force in control of the town (since a viceroy is a local ruler)? And, if reason is in charge of the town, does that mean God is the one who usurped the town, since reason is God's viceroy? Or, is reason the original viceroy of the town, before the town got captured? Either way, it's interesting how the speaker sets up his desire for more attention from God as a battle in which God fights against him. The whole thing is a bit confusing, but it could be intentional, working well with the theme that the speaker doesn't really know whom he's addressing (see "Lines 1-2" in the "Detailed Summary").

Line 1: Here the speaker refers to a battering ram, as if God should break down the walls of a city. That's why "batter my heart" is a metaphor.

Lines 4-7: The speaker describes himself as a captured town, using a simile. Though he tries to let God in, reason, the figure of power in the town, won't help.

Lines 12-13: The speaker brings up the siege metaphor one last time, saying that he wants to be imprisoned (as one would be in a captured town) in order to be freed. And, yes, that's a major paradox.

The Unhappy Engagement / Affair with God Symbol Analysis

In another metaphor that runs through this poem, the speaker describes an unhappy and inconvenient engagement with the "enemy," presumably the Devil. Where before, the speaker sets up God as an attacker, here, he wants God to be a home-wrecker. Strangely, he seems to want God to break up a marriage, even though we imagine God as a pretty staunch supporter of the institution. This metaphor, then, works more as an apology and plea for forgiveness, whereas the siege is more of a plea for liberation from forces the speaker can't control.

Line 5: The phrase "to another due" resonates with "betroth'd unto your enemy" as part of the same engagement metaphor. To be "due" can mean to be owed, or it can refer to a pledge to be married.

Lines 9-11: The main point here is that the speaker describes an engagement with this enemy that he hopes God (the one he actually loves) can help him escape. Since he doesn't actually plan to marry the Devil, this is a metaphor.

Romance with God Symbol Analysis

So, in classic Metaphysical Poet tradition, Donne doesn't make anything super-explicit, but it's hard to read this poem without noticing some sexual overtones. "O'erthrow me, and bend Your force" and "[I] labour to admit you" are examples of moments that carry sexual weight.

Plus, the final line of the poem is hard to ignore: "Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me." The speaker seems to try to

give a more specific flavor to his demands here at the end of the poem. How about this: in struggling to make what he really wants concrete, the speaker finally admits his thoughts through the entire poem the closest he can come to describing what he wants from God is through the metaphor of being ravished by God.

Lines 3-4: "o'erthrow me, and bend / Your force" might be a part of the sexual metaphor.

Line 6: "Labour to admit you" may be similarly part of the sexual metaphor.

Line 13: To "enthrall" someone means to put them in captivity or slavery. But, the word can have some sexual overtones, if it refers to being under someone's erotic power.

Line 14: "Ravish" carries the connotation of “taking advantage of someone,” even if it also means the less sexual "fill with delight." This is where the sexual metaphor is most prominent.

Contradictions

Symbol Analysis

This poem is chock-full of contradictions. Why? Because what the speaker wants is fundamentally a contradiction a physical manifestation of a being (God) who doesn't really exist in physical terms. Plus, there's the fact that, in the speaker's version of Christianity, eternal happiness can only come through earthly suffering.

But there's also another reason, which we think is just as important: the contradictions give the whole poem a feeling of instability and insecurity, which suggests that the speaker really doesn't know what he wants, and certainly doesn't know how to say it. Ever played Taboo or Catchphrase, or some game where you have to describe an object without using that word or related words? What's the easiest way to do it? Use the opposite (not salt but…pepper!). We think that's sort of what's going on here. Since the speaker can't figure out what he wants to say, he throws together a lot of opposites to try to approximate it.

Lines 2 and 4: "knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend," and then "break, blow, burn, and make me new" set up a series of contradictions. The speaker gets one thing, but says he'd rather have the opposite. But, would he? Is being broken, blown, and burned actually what he wants?

Lines 3-4: We see a double feature of contradictions here. First, "overthrow" is the opposite of helping someone "rise" and "stand," but the speaker gives us a bonus contradiction here by using enjambment. He asks God to bend his force, but, since "bend" shows up at the end of line 3 and not the beginning of line 4, it looks like he's saying, "So that I may rise and stand, overthrow me and bend me." Intense stuff.

Lines 7-8: Nothing tricky here, just Reason did the opposite of what the speaker thinks it should. By refusing to allow the speaker to submit to God, Reason acts irrational which is a paradox.

Lines 11-12: Untie me so as to imprison me? Sounds like a contradiction.

Lines 12-14: Welcome to Contradiction City. The speaker asks to be imprisoned, delighted, and raped so that he can be free and chaste.

Speaker Point of View Who is the speaker, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?

So, there seems to be a normal way in which people address God and ask him for things, and then there's our speaker's way. The normal approach tends to show respect and humility. An example of this is the Lord's Prayer: "Our Father, which art in Heaven, Hallowed [holy] be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in Heaven."

But our speaker appears to refuse this approach. He just tells it straight-up, no-holds-barred. Evidence? He starts with a direct command to God ("Batter my heart"). Some Christians would tell you commanding God to do something (as opposed to asking nicely for it) amounts to sacrilege. There's a sense in the whole poem that the speaker thinks he deserves God's attention, which has been lacking, and the speaker goes on and on, maintaining this sense of entitlement: "Reason your viceroy in me, me should defend" (line 7). Note the two "me's" back to back there, and then

that word "should." Everything in this poem is about what the speaker wants and deserves. What's more, instead of confessing to abandoning God in favor of the enemy, the speaker blames it all on "Reason," this personified mental faculty given by God. Realistically, can reason really betray someone? Isn't he just betraying himself, and then trying to pass the buck?

But, somehow, he doesn't come off as a totally arrogant, presumptuous jerk. Instead, we think, the speaker seems like

a guy who's tried for a long time to get God's attention in normal ways with no success. Like a middle-schooler with a

huge crush on someone for a couple years, the speaker here finally just has to blurt out everything he's been thinking in

a very short space of time.

And, that's also why he wants God to treat him so violently he's gone so long without God's attention that he craves

it with incredible intensity. In line 6, we see an interesting moment of lament when he says, "but oh, to no end." Here,

the speaker seems pathetic, and his other commands start to look more like passionate begging. In fact, we might actually think of the speaker here as self-consciously theatrical. At the most basic level, this is a man who's anguished by unrequited love.

However, there's a huge problem with that reading. Check out the end of line 11: "break that knot again." Unless we're missing something, or the speaker just needed a rhyme with "fain," we find out here that God has, in the past, helped the speaker remove himself from a relationship with the enemy. It seems like the speaker goes through all of this intense, emotional fuss to get God to reveal his presence more forcefully even though God has already done it for him in the past. Why all the drama? Why make himself sound like "a guy who's tried for a long time to get God's attention in normal ways with no success?"

Perhaps the answer, as we just mentioned, is that the speaker is self-consciously theatrical, being provocative just for the sake of the experience of being highly emotional and provocative. Another possibility is that "again" doesn't actually refer to himself, but to another time when God had to break a knot. Some scholars argue that the "again" is an allusion to the moment in Genesis when God expels Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden because they follow the Devil's advice.

By this logic, when the speaker says, "Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again," he means "either divorce/untie me from the Devil, or you'll have to break the knot between us, just as you did with Adam." If we run with that theory, we should be able to keep up the theory of the pathetic, desperate lover.

What’s Up With the Title?

Holy Sonnet 14 is part of a larger series of Holy Sonnets that Donne published in the early 1600s. This happens to be the 14th, which isn't all that important. The significant part here is that Donne adopts the sonnet form, which was previously concerned mainly with the speaker's love for a woman. In turning the traditional object of love away from a woman and toward God, Donne demonstrates his fixation with blending earthly and sacred forms of love.

John Donne’s Calling Card What is the poet’s signature style?

Metaphysical conceits, and a conflict between sacred and profane love

"Metaphysical conceits" aren't too strictly defined, but the general idea is that the poet makes use of a clever and unusual extended metaphor throughout much or all of a poem. An extended metaphor, by the way, is just a regular metaphor (directly comparing two things that aren't immediately related) that carries on through more than one sentence. So, in Holy Sonnet 14, the idea of the speaker as a city barricaded against God's advances is a metaphysical

conceit. Check out Donne's poem "The Flea" for an even better example.

As for the conflict between sacred and profane love, check out "In A Nutshell" for more on Donne's history with religion. The basic idea, though, is that Donne is really into physical, earthly love, but also really into God and holiness. As you can imagine, these often run into conflict, and Donne likes to write poems that play with this tension.

Let's zoom out a bit. How do the metaphors and the issue of loving God work together? Well, check it out: the metaphors are somewhat strange, even though they're supposed to make the speaker's relationship with God easier to understand by comparing it to other things we know and recognize (war, sex, and an engagement). But, the problem is that the actual action he wants God to take is no clearer to us at the end of the poem than at the beginning. Does he actually want God to “ravish” him? Probably not, right? So, what does he want? The metaphors, instead of making it easier to understand what's going on, just make figuring out what he really wants much more confusing.

And, why make it so confusing? That's where the issue of loving God comes up. The huge problem he must deal with is that he's trying to define a sacred, spiritual relationship, but the only tools at his disposal are the language we use and the lives we lead here in the non-sacred world. The Bible makes a big point of this: the language God uses is not the language we can use, so the kinds of comparisons Donne can make are inherently limited. Our words and metaphors just can't describe what happens when you get close to God. Donne writes about something he really can't express, and that struggle is a big calling card for all of his poetry.

Batter my heart (Holy Sonnet 14) Theme of Religion

The subject of Donne's Holy Sonnet 14 is religion, even if it's masked by love, sex, and general mayhem. At the most basic level, this is a poem in which a man asks for forgiveness and salvation from God, but he expresses his frustration that God hasn't revealed himself forcefully enough. The speaker, though, is unclear on what the forgiveness and salvation will entail, and how to make sure that God's message gets through to him.

Batter my heart (Holy Sonnet 14) Theme of Love

Complicating the speaker's desire for salvation is the fact that he loves God in more than just the regular spiritual way. He seems interested in marital and sexual forms of love, as well. The bottom line is that he's unsatisfied with the kind of love where one's relationship with God is one-sided worship. He wants to feel loved back, and he's not sure how God can manifest that love.

Batter my heart (Holy Sonnet 14) Theme of Sex

Sex in this Holy Sonnet 14 is a metaphor our speaker uses for the way in which God might demonstrate his love for the speaker. The speaker really wants a close, reciprocal relationship with God, and one of the only ways he can imagine a relationship like this working is through an encounter of a sexual nature.

Batter my heart (Holy Sonnet 14) Theme of Violence

Violence is a way in which the speaker of Holy Sonnet 14 imagines God manifesting his love. God's more gentle efforts to remind the speaker of his presence haven't done the trick, so the speaker demands more extreme gestures like breaking, blowing, and burning.

Batter my heart (Holy Sonnet 14) Theme of Warfare

Warfare makes up the major extended metaphor of Holy Sonnet 14, as the speaker presents himself as a captured fortress city. He calls upon God to storm the walls and retake the city. What's curious about this metaphor is that, if the speaker is the city and God is the attacker, God is going to have to do some major damage to the speaker in order to save him. Questions of what it means to be an attacker or a victim dovetail with the notions of rape and ravishment in the poem.