Holy Sonnets

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Holy Sonnet V
By John Donne

I am a little world made cunningly
Of elements, and an angelic spright,
But black sin hath betrayed to endless night
My worlds both parts, and oh! both parts must die.
You, which beyond that heaven which was most high
Have found new spheres and of new lands can write,
Pour new seas in mine eyes, that so I might
Drown my world with my weeping earnestly,
Or wash it, if it must be drowned no more:
But oh! it must be burnt; alas the fire
Of lust and envy burnt it heretofore,
And made it fouler; Let their flames retire,
And burn me, O Lord, with a fiery zeal
Of thee and thy house, which doth in eating heal.

Holy Sonnet X
By John Donne

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so,
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

Holy Sonnet XIV
By John Donne

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 usurpt town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d 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.
“Wilt thou love God, as he thee? Then digest”

Holy Sonnet XIX
By John Donne

Oh, to vex me, contraries meet in one:
Inconstancy unnaturally hath begot
A constant habit; that when I would not
I change in vows, and in devotion.
As humorous is my contrition
As my profane love, and as soon forgot:
As riddlingly distempered, cold and hot,
As praying, as mute; as infinite, as none.
I durst not view heaven yesterday; and today
In prayers and flattering speeches I court God:
Tomorrow I quake with true fear of his rod.
So my devout fits come and go away
Like a fantastic ague; save that here
Those are my best days, when I shake with fear.

Sonnets are my favorite form of poetry. While Shakespeare, Spenser, and Petrarch are the most famous sonneteers, I do love the sonnets of Donne and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Today though I am featuring four of Donne’s Holy Sonnets. The Holy Sonnets—also known as the Divine Meditations or Divine Sonnets—are a series of nineteen poems by the English poet John Donne (1572–1631). The sonnets were first published in 1633—two years after Donne’s death. The poems are predominantly in the style and form set forth by Petrarch (1304–1374) in which the sonnet consisted of two quatrains (four-line stanzas) and a sestet (a six-line stanza). However, several rhythmic and structural patterns as well as the inclusion of couplets are elements influenced by the sonnet form developed by Shakespeare (1564–1616).

The primary theme of Donne’s Holy Sonnets are to mourn the passing of his wife and address religious themes of mortality, divine judgment, divine love, and humble penance while reflecting deeply personal anxieties.

I’m not sure I’m in full blogging mode again yet, but I had read Holy Sonnet V the other day, and it just sort of stuck with me. I used to teach the Holy Sonnets when I tortured taught my students about sonnets. Donne wrote some of the most difficult sonnets to understand but I think if you are in the mindset he was when he wrote them, it becomes easier to understand. He is obviously coming to terms with changes in his life (Catholicism to Anglicanism), the loss of a loved one (he lost his wife), and general anxieties that come with such struggles. Moving from Alabama to Vermont, I can see allegorically how I moved from a rural conservative place that was what you expected of Alabama, to a somewhat rural but much more liberal (and even more urban since I live in town) Vermont. Anyway, just my thoughts as I woke up this morning, and decided to add this last paragraph.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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