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.

Asher Blake’s The Man Who Left No Mark


The Man Who Left No Mark

They say he has forsaken us.
Wandering God, who knows where?
Leaving not happy with his children,
relying on us now to do.

That is what we say of him
behind his back now he
died. What words
did he offer,
thinking on us
who were in town that day?
Who is on our hands
and will not leave our minds,
who left a knocking in my heart
no one knows?
Who knows his word,
that is words
he spoke, no hill
his friends could sit on
as when he spoke of better things,
Whisper me a word
he spoke, so none may hear,
whisper sweet, unregistered
we dine at dinner.
None may hear.
How he died at Calvary, when he
kissed my sins and died.
Don’t go near there!
Who told you –
who said you could be here!?!

He crept in with lepers’ beds.
He squabbled with fighting children,
by and by he simply made their troubles
fly. He ran out there, there was a sign,
where the man cried from
the mine field. What man
went there? Why, he lived
in an asylum, Worcestershire,
Gloucestershire, friends, friends
all followed, touching him
as lambs.
The family he had there
he boasted they did his meek will.

What was the thing he said
to gentle, gentle, people
at the square? He carried something
there that day – our hate,
that yet stays with me.
He told them not so,
not right, Pharisee,
and brought it on.
Something wrapped about him
there, our jealousy.
And serpent, serpent,
we forgot, they took his clothes
apart. Healer, healer
is it done? Naked, scorned,
the Tempter moved them
from the tree.
Was his race won?
Did the fruit that dropped
look good to eat as wisdom,
and tempt a savoring palette?
Do we go away so serpentine
from something so direct?

Nail down
that he was at the front,
the head of all the world,
which was then beginning
to be established in its ways.
He led himself,
(did he love the world?)
to the grave, to holes in rocks,
to caves for rich men,
to garden pits,
sitting close to us like a baby
wrapped at our breast,
not stopping –
the Christ child was lowered
down further to an endless pit
beneath where she longed
to follow, but the sword
pierced just her soul,
she yet breathed.
Walking there, what said the one
who left us here?

“They will come for you
if you are good.
They will come for you.
Do not cry for me,
but for yourselves,
and your children
at your breast.
The tree my Father
gave is Love.
They murder it,
they chase the dove.
For terror overspreads the Earth
since Adam’s bowed to Hell.
If shown the fresh face
of God they spit,
what will they do
when they aged and weathered it?”

Jesus and Social Justice

Gerard Manley Hopkins’ – The Windhover


Randall Jarrell once said, “A good poet is someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times; a dozen or two dozen times and he is great.” Gerard Manley Hopkins’, who was both exacting and inspired, counted his poem “The Windhover” as his greatest work, and many readers agree.  He was surely struck rapt by lightning the morning he marveled at this hovering windhover, which, flying in place, are considered a symbol of Christ crucified.  Read carefully one finds that it has fewer violations of grammar than it may seem initially, because while every moment the language seems to flow and rush in transcendent association, the verbal sense is still maintained smoothly, even while the description performs its wild maneuvers. It reminds me that fire that is the most beautiful thing.