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Purify my heart for I have sinned: An Irony In John Donne??s ??Batter my

heart, three-personed God; for You,?? the moral and religious qualms of the

speaker are manifest in a sonnet which seems at first almost like an avowal

between lovers. These convictions of guilt, which stem from his sexual emotion,

are what induce desire for a creator/creation relationship with God. With

further analysis, the violent and sexual slant on the relationship is also

revealed. The first expression provides the reader with an initial framework for

the mood of the poem. Donne says, ??Batter my heart,?? (1) This opening word

is the first of an upcoming myriad of terms of violence. The impression given is

that the speaker is either a vulnerable and/or masochistic person. However, it

becomes evident in the lines ensueing that the speaker is somewhat disconcerted.

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. (1-4) In lines 1 and 3, he is

asking God for torment, to be overcome. In lines 2 and 4, he is requesting to be

fixed, mended, made new. The speaker is vascillating between the two; he seems

indecisive. The verbs in lines 2 and 4 oddly parallel eachother. They are

thematically similar; complementing, but at the same time contradicting. ??Knock??

corresponds to ??break,?? as ??breathe?? does to ??blow,?? and so

on. Nonetheless these lines allude to the subordinate role that he takes. In

line 5, a complication emerges. He is ??to another due.?? (5) There is

another character in the poem who has seized him by force, ??like an usurped

town.?? (5) In the appropriation of a town, the usurper must be the new ruler

of the town, the authoritative leader who snatches the reins of power from the

original leader. This image of an ??usurped town?? makes an interesting

metaphor for Satan??s heist of a man??s soul from God. It is the Christian

belief that the human spirit, originally owned by God, is at a constant battle

with the devil, who in turn provides perpetual temptation to which the

Christians fall, and want God to mitigate. The speaker says, ??Labor to admit

You, but Oh, to no end!?? (6) He desires and works to admit God as the

beholder, the controller and owner of his spirit, but the Devil??s seizure is

??to no end.?? His defense of the ??viceroy?? in him ??proves weak and

untrue.?? (8) A town is also not quite as unyielding as it appears from the

outside. We saw from line 1 that the speaker wants to be taken by God. Since he

is ??betrothed unto?? God??s enemy, he needs for God to break his tie to

Satan, and to ??imprison?? him so that he would unsusceptible to the Devil??s

domination. Like someone snared in a defective marriage, he must be ??divorced??

or ??untied?? from the knot. The manner in which Donne describes this

depicts the violent nature of how he wants God to rescue him. He says, ??Take

me to You, imprison me.?? (12) It is also obvious in his use of harsh verbs-

batter, knock, o??erthrow, break, blow, burn, usurp, break, imprison. It seems

to me that the speaker is so keenly aware of his sins and shortcomings that it

is imperative that God not only saves him from his sinful ways, but does so in

an intense, brutal manner. It is a role which he wants God to play because he

feels the need to be rebuked in two divergent respects; that of the creator and

of the restorer. These particular yearnings of treatment demonstate the elevated

fervor and passion of his religious conviction, which in this case is

accompanied by brutality to recompensate his sins. This passion is implicated

with a sexual character. ??Batter my heart.?? (1) In layman??s terms it

would say ??hurt me.?? Interestingly, the word ??heart?? during Donne??s

era had a sexual connotation. (A Dictionary of Shakespeare??s Sexual Puns and

their Significance) This definition does not actually come into play until the

concluding lines, where he speaks of being raped by God. ??Except You enthrall

me, never shall be free,/ Nor ever chaste, except You ravish me.?? (13-14)

Donne??s choice of words is imperative in ascertaining the sexuality of the

poem. The word ??enthrall?? means to captivate, charm, and hold in slavery.

The previous and following phrases, ??imprison me,?? and ??never shall be

free,?? (13) indicate that Donne used the word in every meaning. This has both

a violent and a sexual slant; he is enslaved forcefully and sexually. This

foreshadows the fornication which will take place in the next line. ??Ravish??

is a key verb, holding significant meaning. It first seems a mere reference to

the act of transporting with strong emotion (esp. joy). However, upon closer

inspection, the multiple meanings of the word create an entirely new perspective

on the poem. The other meanings of ??ravish?? are to seize and carry off by

force, to kidnap, to rape and violate, and in Shakespearian times, to rob,

plunder. Donne desired for God to seize him from the ??usurper,?? the Devil

himself. The aforementioned word ??chaste,?? meaning virginal and celibate,

bestows coherance on the definition as rape. Referring back to the opening line

of the poem, the usage of the word ??heart?? as a sexual reference now makes

sense. Perhaps it also signifies the vagina; connecting the ??battering?? of

a ??heart?? to a beating of the vagina, to rape. He is asking God to ??break??

him (rape him), to make him ??new.?? In the concluding line, the speaker

states that he will ever be ??chaste, except You ravish me.?? Taken

literally, the phrase contradicts itself. How does one claim that he will never

be virginal, unless he has been raped? It is apparent here that Donne sees a

rape from God as purification, a rebirth of virginity; once again, giving

emphasis to his need to be punished for his transgressions. This brings into

question the exact nature of Donne?? s relationship with God, and how and why

he is so spiritually dependent on God. It is almost curious that God seems to be

playing all of these differing roles. Donne wants God to be the ??three-personed

God,?? (1) playing three different roles, the creator/destroyer,

restorer/purifier, and raper. The speaker is asking God to purify him, to help

him escape Satan??s grasp, but at the same time he wants to be raped. He wants

to be recreated, made ??new,?? but at the same time ??mended,??

rectified in morals. The whole intent of the poem seems contradictory, but it is

very telling of the speaker??s religious standing. Donne sees rape as a sort

of purification of the soul. It sanctifies ??chastity?? rather than

annihilating it. He requests this violence to cleanse him of his sinful

defilements. He wants God to beat the sin out of him because he is tempted by

it. His soul is married to the temptation of the world, to the devil and sin.

Hence, needs God to imprison him because he feels helpless, aimless; he needs

direction. However he cannot see himself free from sin??s deathly grip. This

explains the irony of the concluding lines. The entire poem is filled with

irony, and fittingly, the poem ends in a contradiction. Analogous to the irony

of rape as a means of purification, God builds up as he tears down. Donne??s

religious principle is revealed in this metaphor, in his shocking request to be

ravished into chastity. He is a man who is in desperate need of being forgiven

and purified by God, a man who sees violence as the only effective means of

doing so.

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