Batter my heart, three person'd God (Holy Sonnet XIV)

John Donne, photo from The British Museum

John Donne, photo from The British Museum

I am a born & bred heathen, raised by a former Protestant and a former Catholic who vowed to never raise their kids with superstitions. While I thank them for, among many things, all the free Sundays over the course of my life, I have always found the emotionally-charged religious-themed poetry of John Donne compelling.

I think it's the mix of hard-hitting phrases and anguished emotions that hardly seem to do with religious devotion at all, but the basic striving for something external, something beyond the self, and the roiling erotic urges blended in. Okay, maybe that's hugely what religious urges are based on.

That a supposed monotheistic religion like Christianity ends up as a polytheism (father, son, spirit, Mother/Virgin Mary, angels, saints all available for supernatural help) is amusing. The centuries spent and volumes written by scholars trying to rectify the "mystery" of the Trinity is stupefying. But the desire to gain holy attention and succor from a variety of family & lover roles (including getting "married" to the Church or the Lord) ties into semi-conscious or unconscious needs we all have.

Batter my heart, three person'd God

by John Donne

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,
Labour to admit you, but oh, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov'd 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.