A Comparison of Donnes Holy Sonnets
Batter my heart and Death be not proud
God, man, and Death have always had a very turbulent relationship. John Donnes Holy Sonnets, Batter my heart (14), and Death be not proud (10), exemplify the relationship, as they are composed in an asymmetrical pattern to show the raw emotions of man in an iambic pentameter. Donnes Holy Sonnets use different tones and vivid images to explore the speakers relationship between God, Death and himself through similar poetic devices.
Batter my heart illustrates the demanding tone as God is given an ultimatum: Except you enthrall me, never shall I be free / Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me (13-14). The speaker commands God to change him immediately through the means of brutality imploring God: Batter my heart (1) / your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new. (4). The speakers expressive, forceful, tone, depicts the desperation he suffers as he searches for Gods love in a sexual and violent manner.
Similar to the demanding tone of Sonnet 14, Death be not proud, portrays the speaker as one who unafraid of using a mocking tone as he utters: Death be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so. This attitude insinuates Death is not worthy of his reputation of morbid fear. The speaker continues to mock Deaths position as he implies that Death is inferior to: poppy or charms [that] can makes us sleep as well (11), he is nothing more than: a slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men (9). Death is no longer a fearful terrorist. His persona of terror has been considerably reduced, as the speaker continues to ridicule him: canst thou kill me. The speaker taunts Death by asking: why swellst thou than? (12). He exclaims all you can do is give man, one short sleep past, we wake eternally, (13) The speaker may have implied that he was using sarcasm in thanking Death for aiding in the passage into the eternities.
The speakers use of a metaphor is just as important as the use of a demanding tone in "Batter my heart". The speaker likens himself to that of an "usurped town" (5) whos desires are to "Labor (6) through sexual intercourse: admit you (6) with God, thus becoming united as one. However, he is powerless in doing so as he is held: captivated, and proves weak or untrue (7). The speaker openly admits his desires to be close to God, but feels his sins will not allow this to happen. He further expresses his love for the Almighty, but explains to God that he is His enemy (9), and for that reason alone his relationship with God needs to be severed: Divorce me, untie or break that knot (10)
Unlike the metaphor used in Batter my heart, the speaker in Death be not proud uses personification to show Death as a mighty and dreadful (2) person. Furthermore, the use of personification of Death directly leads to an apostrophe, for Death cannot respond to anything the speaker has to say in regards to his character. The further use of an apostrophe is manifested through a sympathetic tone, which, could also be looked at as condescending, as he addresses Death: poor Death. (4). The personification of Death continues as the speaker shows Death that he exhibits charitable acts as he leads humankind into immortality: our best men with thee do go, (7)
The vivid imagery of the speakers relationship with God and himself does not show the speaker as a humble child petitioning his Father for help in Batter my heart. Instead, he is shown as a disrespectful narrator who uses a tone of an authoritarian, directing God in the exactness of his exaltation: That I may rise and stand, oerthrow me, and bend (3). This image of dominance from the speaker is a direct contrast to Christianity in which Donne was so fond of.
The speaker clearly demonstrates his confusion and desires to become an obedient, loving servant to God, but more importantly, to be loved by God in a way that he understands it: I love you, and would be loved fain, (9). However, this can only be shown through a sexual and physical gratification, which is revealed as he tries to seduce God in stating, ravish me (14). If the speaker was successful in having God ravish him, wouldnt God, at that point, become as the speaker; an individual guilty of a grievous, sexual sin?
Unlike batter my heart; Death be not proud does not employ the sexual imagery. It depicts Death as a powerless enemy who ends up looking like a glorified personified individual. The use of an analogy demonstrates Deaths lack of power through: rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, / Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, (5-6). Deaths image of demise has been deduced to nothing more than that of a nap, which does not have the connotations of fear. The speaker clearly demonstrates that even the personified death can, and will die as it is stated in line 14: Death, thou shalt die
In a world that is filled with sin and death, one might ask, does an individual have the right to make very specific demands of God, or even the audacity to mock death with out the fear of retaliation from Death? The creation of Donnes Holy Sonnets, Batter my heart and Death be not proud employ a very different means of communication through a demanding and mocking tones in which God and Death are addressed. The portrayal of violent and witty imagery, along with the metaphysical poetic devices used in Sonnets 14 and 10, emphasize the miserable and confusing circumstances of life, as some individuals plead for salvation from God while others try to avoid and or even embrace the personified Death.