Holy Sonnet 14

It’s time for my Midweek Recommendation, in which I commend to your attention books or music or movies or anything I find worth recommending.

I’m a little late getting to my midweek recommendation this week, but I hope it will prove worth the wait, nonetheless. I’d like to commend to your enjoyment, John Donne’s “Holy Sonnet 14,” included in its entirety below…

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 O, 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 enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

“Holy Sonnet 14” probably isn’t quite as well known as “Holy Sonnet 10” (the “Death be not proud” one, if you’ve forgotten it:), but in many respects I find it even more powerful (though don’t get me wrong, there are moments in life that call for “Holy Sonnet 10,” that’s for sure.) In this sonnet, we see a very powerful reflection on both Donne’s desire to serve God and to love Him more, but also his deep awareness that left to his own devices, he just can’t and won’t. He then invites God to act forcibly upon him and within him.

It’s a bold poem. We are all control freaks, to one extent or another. I know, you can probably think of ‘that person’ in your circle who you see as the ultimate control freak, but don’t kid yourself. What you want, perhaps most of all, is to manage your own affairs, without interference from the outside. Donne here, explicitly calls on God to ignore that desire and to act sovereignly in his life, since he is convinced that this is for his own good.

Do you believe that? That if you invited God to ‘enthrall’ you, that it would make you free?

It is a hard thing to embrace, but I think Donne is on to something pretty profound – as he so often was. Starting a prayer with the line, ‘Batter my heart, three-personed God,’ should never be done lightly, I think. Nevertheless, I also think it should be done. Something to think about, perhaps.