Batter My Heart Three-Person'd God: Summary & Analysis

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Batter My Heart Three-Person'd God

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 usurped town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, 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 betrothed unto your enemy,
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I.
Except you enthral me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

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 usurped town, to another due, Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end, Reason your viceroy in me, me should defend, But is captived, and proves weak or untrue,
Batter My Heart Three-Person'd God


      Line. 1-4: Oh God, you have three aspects - Father, Son (Christ) and Holy Ghost. Hammer my heart and beat it into a new shape! Upto this time, you have tried to reform me by gentle methods like those used by a tinker - by knocking me gently, blowing your wrath over me by reshaping me with persuasion (I am a hardened sinner and require violent and harsh methods for reshaping). God, over-throw me and pull me down so that I may stand up, reformed and purified. Use your mighty force break me, blow me, burn me like an iron smith, and reshape me according to your desire. (The poet wants God to use all His force to improve him).

      Line. 5-8: I am like a town illegally occupied by the wrong man - Satan. I am trying my best to admit you into the town, but on account of the weakness of your agent - Reason - in me, who himself is weak and imprisoned, I am unable to succeed. Reason which should have saved the poet from sin or the Devil is helpless.

      Line. 9-14: I strongly love God, inspite of my sins. I would like to be loved by Him but unfortunately, I am betrothed to his enemy (the poet compares himself to a woman betrothed to the Devil). Oh God, separate me from the devil, break his hold over me and take me into your arms and embrace me. I shall only be free when you imprison me (mark the contradiction). I would be really chaste when you (God) ravish me and possess me completely. (When God enters the poet's body, he would be pure and chaste).

Critical Analysis

      As the very title of the sonnet Batter My Heart Three-Person'd God suggests, it is a passionate and forceful appeal to God to take possession of Donne's heart. The intensity of the poet's feeling is conveyed by the word 'batter'. To batter means to pound repeatedly, to deal heavy repeated blows, to beat persistently and hard. The poet vehemently prays to the Christian Trinity - God the Father, God the Son (Christ) and God the Holy Ghost to take possession of his heart by force. According to Leishman, it reveals the poet's "agonised striving" to be possessed by God and gives expression to it through the analogy of an usurped town during war and then of a beloved under the forcible possession of the adversary of the lover. "Any mild and persuasive action will not help in the transformation of the poet. The poet is a confirmed sinner and only drastic action against him will change him. A total regeneration is not possible without a powerful and violent action of God." According to F.W. Payne, the sonnet expresses adequately "in its striking metaphor and its forceful diction, his burning desire for an assurance of forgiveness" R.G. Cox feels that in the 'Holy Sonnets' of which this poem is one the method of expression and style is the same as that of love poems. "As in love poetry, here too, is a considerable variety of tone and method ranging from mere casuistry and debating tricks to a profound urgency and conviction and sometimes both may be found together." In this sonnet, the poet treats God as a conqueror or a ravisher. This is rather an unusual comparison. The plea of the poet is that unless God acts with force and vigor, He will not mend his ways. The way down-hill is quick and easy, the way uphill is difficult and strenuous. Only God's might may push him up on the spiritual path.

Development of Thought:

      The poet John Donne appeals to God to transform his inner being. As he is a great sinner, mild methods will not succeed with him. God the Tinker, need not use gentle methods like "knock, breathe, shine and seek to amend". He must use harsh and rough methods. Just as the tinker, in order to reshape the pot, must 'break, blow and burn' the metal to give it a new shape, in the same way God must overpower him and use violent methods to reshape and remold him.

Usurped Town:

      Donne compares himself to an usurped town. His soul belongs to God, but has been taken away by the Devil. He himself is willing to pay his homage to God, but he cannot do so because he is under the power of the Devil. Reason is God's Viceroy, but even Reason is unable to oppose the might of the Devil. Therefore, God should use force and release him from the horrible clutches, of evil forces. Thus alone he can be saved from damnation.

Usurped Beloved:

      The poet clarifies his position through the metaphor of lover - beloved relationship. The poet is the beloved while God is the lover. According to tradition, God is the man, while human beings are all females. The poet's soul loves God and desires to be united with Him. However, she has been forcibly betrothed to the Devil. He is a slave of the Devil and God alone can rescue him. God should sever his connection with evil and redeem him from wickedness. God should accept him as a beloved and take him into His arms. Now he is a slave of the Devil but let God make a slave of him. The poet feels that he can never be purified till God consummates his union with him. Then alone he will be free from sin and evil.

Critical Remarks:

      This use of sensual relationship for holy transformation need not be objected to: 'imprison me, enthrall me, ravish me' only show the intensity of the poet's feeling who wishes to be totally owned and possessed by God.

      There is a great use of paradox in the poem. Donne's relation with God is expressed through several paradoxes. Donne can only rise if he is once thrown by God; he can be free only if he is imprisoned by God and he can be chaste only if he is ravished by the Almighty. Another paradox is based on the maxim preparedness for war is the best guarantee of, peace. The poet can gain peace of mind only when God uses violence and snatches him away from the Devil. The tinker must use harsh and violent methods to break the vessel and then reshape it. Similarly, God should burn the impurities in him through the fire of the bellows. The metaphor of the usurped town being taken by the lawful owner is quite appropriate. Similarly, the usurped body who is in the possession of the Devil should be rescued by God. Freedom and purity can come only through divine consummation.

      The idea of violence runs throughout the poem like an undercurrent. The hammering, of the Linker or he blacksmith, is followed by the siege, and, capture of the besieged town. The marriage is followed by ravishment. There is a continuous comparison of secular love to divine love. Donne s artistry is evident in his expression of physical love which is used to his advantage in portraying holy love. The use of sensual imagery cannot be regarded as incongruous because in the final analysis, it conveys the sincerity and confessional frankness of the poet as a true slave of God.

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