Donne’s Holy Sonnet: Batter My Heart, Three-Person’d God


John Donne had an outstanding poetic mind coupled with fierce and undeniable passion.  His rhythms had the spring of real speech, prompting Ben Jonson, an admirer, to write, “Donne, for not keeping of accent, deserved hanging.”  It is hard to find a poet with more imaginative use of metaphor I suppose.  Hard to find a thinker whose philosophical reflections are so condensed and so dramatically charged.

He was one of the first love poets to write with his love interest listening to the poem.  In His poem “The Flea” the woman even picks up the source of his metaphor and crushes it under her nail.  But John Donne rolls with this and manages to press his case for love in the final stanza.  ‘If we are no weaker after our mingled blood has been crushed in the flea, then why fear sharing yourself with me?’  He is often considered the greatest love poet in English, thus departed from the flea/me rhyme seen above.  He is also a very talented religious poet, and was the most famous preacher in England for a time, despite the fact that he resisted that calling until the age of 42, pressured by King James.

Here is a really nice bio on Donne in the Encyclopedia Brittanica.  This is the first part of an eight part series on Donne as a religious poet in the Guardian which you may enjoy.  The Holy Sonnet, “Batter my heart, three-person’d God” can be read here.