John Donne & Batter my Heart: Editing Iambic Pentameter Then & Now

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine


I was looking for another poem to analyze. Since there’s been so much interest in my post on Donne’s Death Be Not Proud, I thought I would  look at another of his Holy Sonnets, the famous Batter My Heart. john donneThe first thing I did was to Google the sonnet. And here’s what I found out: All of the sites I have looked at so far, offer readers a “modernized” version of the sonnet. Not only is the spelling modernized, but also the punctuation.

This is a disaster.

Here’s why: The Elizabethans used spelling and punctuation as signposts (spelling hadn’t been standardized) indicating how their lines should be read. Unfortunately, modernizations of the sonnet overlook this, misunderstanding the reasons Elizabethans wrote and spelled the way they did. It wasn’t haphazard. The end result is that all the modernizations I’ve seen so far, completely and devastatingly erase the clues to Donne’s intentions.

So, I’ve used an Oxford edition of Donne’s Poetical Works which retains the original spellings and punctuation. It falls just short of being a facsimile edition. This is the version I’ve scanned and once we go through it together, it will all make sense.

  • Note: [June 4 2009 – As I sit at the Dartmouth Bookstore] Another edition which respects Donne’s punctuation and your ability to get it, is the Everyman Library’s edition of The Complete English Poems. Astonishingly, the Norton Critical Edition of John Donne’s Poetry does not. Dickson edits the poem inconsistently, choosing to note some of Donne’s markings while ignoring others, all while giving the reader no indication that he is doing so. I don’t recommend this edition and if instructors want you to buy it, point out the poor editing or point them to my website.

Note, if any of this terminology is unfamiliar to you, you might consider reading my post on Iambic Pentameter and the Basics, first. I’ve also spent aless time explaining the reasons why an Iambic Pentameter poem should be read as such. My previous posts, such as my previous post on Donne, go into more of the historical reasons for conservative readings of meter.


First, by way of comparison, here is the modernized version (as typically found on the web) side by side with the “facsimile”. I’ve highlighted the crucial punctuation, in the original, missing in the modernization.

Comparison of Modernized & Facsimile Sonnet XIV

In each of the highlights, the apostrophes indicate the use of Synalophea, a form of elision where, “at the juncture of two vowels one is elided” [Sister Miriam Joseph: Shakespeare’s Use of the Arts of Language p. 52]. Without these indications no modern reader of poetry, having grown up on free verse, would suspect that something was missing. They would simply read the lines as anapests, completely ignoring the meter and Donne’s intentions. So, they would read the third line as follows:

That I| may rise, |and stand, |o’erthrow |me, and bend

When it should read something like this:

That I| may rise, |and stand, |o’erthrow |me’nd bend

There’s room for debate as to whether this sort of slurring or elision works. There were readers in Donne’s own day who frequently scratched their heads. But what’s indisputable, is that Donne intended us to elide these words. He was writing Iambic Pentameter – still a new meter. So many anapests in the span of a single sonnet would have been derided as incompetent. In my last post on Donne, examining his other Holy Sonnet, Death be not Proud, you’ll find the following:

Ben Jonson was quoted as having said: “Donne, for not keeping of accent, deserved hanging.” Even two hundred years later, literary historian Henry Hallam considered Donne the “most inharmonius of our versifiers, if he can be said to have deserved such a name by lines too rugged to seem metre.” Right up to 1899, Francis Thompson was describing Donne’s poetry as “punget, clever, with metre like a rope all hanks and knots.”

Thomas Carew, a contemporary, wrote in his elegy to Donne:

Our stubborne language bends, made only fit
With her tough-thick-rib’d hoopes to gird about
Thy Giant phansie

Carew praised Donne’s meter for it’s “masculine expression”.  Dryden, on the other hand, wished that Donne “had taken care of his words, and of his numbers [numbers was a popular term for meter] eschewing in particular his habitual rough cadence. (For most of these quotes, I’m indebted to  C.A. Partrides Everyman’s Library introduction to Donne’s complete poems.)

The Holy Trinity Masaccio, 1426-27 Fresco, Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy.

The Holy Trinity Masaccio, 1426-27 Fresco, Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy.

In Donne’s 14th Holy Sonnet, “thick ribb’d”, spondaic lines like “but knocke, |breathe, shine”  or “to break, | blowe, burn” were  the lines that troubled readers the most. Yet lines like these are what Donne needed to convey the energetic emotional conviction behind his rhetoric – anger, contempt, desperation, etc…

Back to the differences between the old and new printings:

Notice how Donne spells usurped as  usurpt. This wasn’t because he didn’t know how to spell. He was telling us that the word was to be treated as bi-syllabic, not tri-syllabic. In other words, it shouldn’t be pronounced usurpèd.  He apostrophizes betroth’d for the same reason. He doesn’t want us to pronounce it as betrothèd. Now, you might object that since no one pronounces it like this anymore anyway, why preserve this spelling. The reason is that you will miss the words that he does want us to pronounce tri-syllabically – like “beloved fain”.

Yet dearely’I love you,’and would belov|èd faine,

So, it’s not that he remembered how to spell beloved, it’s that he wanted us to pronounce the -ed ending. And it’s the reason why “responsible” modern editions add the accent grave over the è when they modernize the rest of the spelling. Now, on to the sonnet. Here it is:

The Sonnet

John Donne: Sonnet XIV "Batter my heart" Scansion

The First Quatrain: Batter me!

As with modern day religious leaders, Donne’s carnality and spirituality were never far removed. Donne, at least, wasn’t hypocritical about it. He made great poetry out of the conflict.

Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee,’and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.

battering ramThree-person’d God refers to the holy trinity. The battering ram was an old, if not ancient, weapon by the time Donne wrote his sonnet, but it was still a very effective and violent weapon – possibly the most terrifying weapon of its day. If the battering ram was out and it was battering your portcullis, and if you were out of hot oil, you were in a lot of trouble.  So, Donne’s battering was probably the most violent and terrifying weapon he could conjure. No battering ram, by the way, could be effectively used by one person. Donne remedies that by referring to God as three-personed. In the illustration at right, though the perspective is somewhat confused, you will notice that three soldiers are using the first of the battering rams.

Batter me! – Donne cries to God. All you do is try to mend. Mend, in Donne’s day, had the sense “to repair from breach or decay: Like the mending of highways” [ Shakespeare-Lexicon: A Complete Dictionary of All the Works of the Poet. Schmidt.] It also, as today, has the sense of improving and making better. But it’s the first sense that Donne was playing on. He tells us that God is reparing the breach when he should be battering it down. In the first two lines Donne plays on paradoxical demands, subverting the reader’s usual expectations. Let God destroy; and by destroying, build. So that I can rise up and stand, says Donne, overthrow me, bend/use your force/your power, to break and blow (in the sense of a bomb or petar – used to blow up walls). Burn me (like the invader who burns down the besiged fortress) and rebuild me – make me new. This is an urgent sonnet.
Here’s how Bejamin Britten expressed the Sonnet in music:Death be not proud.... CD by Britten & Bostridge[Audio

Note: This, by the way, is directly related to the much misunderstood expression – “hoisted by one’s own petard”. A petard was like dynamite, a kind of bomb.

Let it work;
For ’tis the sport to have the enginer
Hoist with his own petar; and ‘t shall go hard
But I will delve one yard below their mines
And blow them at the moon.
[Shakespeare: Hamlet III, 4]

The Second Quatrain

The second quatrain continues the theme of the first, rounding off the Sonnet’s octave.

I, like an usurpt towne, to’another due,
Labour to’admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue.

Donne compares himself to a “usurpt towne”. The word due, according to the Shakespeare Lexicon (the best dictionary for words in Shakespeare’s day), has as its second meaning “belonging” – to belong to someone. I am due to a woman [Err. III, 2, 81]. So, Donne is saying that he has been usurpt and now belongs to another (greed? carnality? temptation? we don’t really know yet…). And though he labors to admit God, his efforts are “to no end”.

Donne then characterizes Reason, his own reason, as God’s viceroy. A viceroy was understood as a substitute for the King. So, by this analogy, Donne sees himself as a city into which God has breathed reason – the (substitute or viceroy) of God (the King). But in Donne, God’s viceroy, who should defend Donne, is captive to another. He proves weak or untrue. In my scansion, I chose to emphasize the conjunction or.  In terms of meter, Donne has placed it in a position which is normally stressed (the second syllable of any iambic foot). As I’ve written before: If one can read a foot as Iambic in poetry prior to the 20th Century, one probably should. In this case, stressing or adds another layer of meaning reinforced by the content. That is, it’s one thing for Donne to suggest that his reason is weake, but entirely another to suggest that his reason is untrue – a traitor. Being convicted of treachery in Donne’s day was treated as an especially heinous offense. A death sentence was usually a sure bet. Dismemberment, including having your dismembered parts nailed up for public display, was de rigueur. If the sonnet were spoken like a monologue, I might expect the actor to hesitate at or. “My reason is too weake or… or untrue!”  – spoken as with a sense of self-discovery or even self-loathing.

Save me! – Donne cries.

The Sestet

Yet dearely’I love you,’and would be loved faine,
But am betroth’d unto your enemie:
Divorce mee,’untie, or breake that knot againe,
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you’enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

The structure of the sonnet is most like those of Sidney’s Sonnets. However, where there is usually a division between the third quatrain and a final epigrammatic couplet, Donne makes none. The final quatrain is enjambed. Its phrasing flows smoothly into the couplet. So, while I would normally treat the quatrain and couplet as discrete, I’ve reproduced the entire sestet as an indivisible whole. In this regard, the content of the sonnet more closely approximates that of a Patrarchan Sonnet.

Despite the possible betrayal of reason, God’s viceroy, Donne insists that, though he is “betrothed to God’s enemie, he “dearely” loves God and “would be loved faine” (faine means gladly). What’s interesting is that the analogy Donne uses to portray his relationship to God and his own will seems to change completely. No longer is he a city. He now compares himself to a desperate bridegroom – one who is betrothed to someone he does not wish to marry. Is this the volta? – a change of conceit?

C.A. Partride, in his notes to the Sonnet (The Complete English Poems), has this to say:

Man’s relations with God have been set forth in terms of marriage or adultery ever since the great Hebrew prophets, beginning with Hosea. It was within such a context that Donne described adultery as ‘every departing from that contract you made with God at your Baptisme… [p. 433]

Divorce mee! – Donne cries. “Untie or breake that knot again!” Recalling the martial analogies of octave, he cries: “Imprison me!” And now Donne revels in a sort of paradoxical delight. “Imprison me,” he cries, enthrall me (enslave me), and I “shall be free”!  “Ravish me!” – Donne cries. “And I shall be chaste!”

But ravish, in its Elizabethan sense, carried a more violent connotation than now, the first two definitions being: 1.) To rob, to carry away by force; 2.) to deflower by violence. We are reminded of the sonnet’s first line, but now the martial imagery assumes a very different meaning. The heart is the “seat of love and amorous desire” [Shakespeare Lexicon]. The soul is a feminine attribute [Shakespeare Lexicon p. 1090]. The battering ram is phallic.

The octave takes on a new layer of meaning.

In one sense, Donne, his body and soul are one and the same.

In another sense, they are not. Donne’s soul is trapped within the body (the usurpt town) – usurpt by reason.  And now we begin to comprehend the different characters in the sonnet:

Three person’d GodWhose overthrow Donne (or Donne’s Soul) desires.
ReasonGod’s viceroy, who has betrayed Donne.
The Towne – Which is Donne’s Physical Being. His body.
The Enemie – Fear. Or the fear of Death. Fear seeks to prevent God’s entry.
The Betrothed – Donne’s soul. The Bridegroom who seeks God rather than Fear.

So… Weake and untrue reason has captiv’d Donne; has betroth’d him to fear. Donne, in the sense of his phsycial being, fears the very thing his soul desires – Death.  The soul’s cry to God is a cry for death – freedom from her unwilling betrothal to the body. Do not mend but batter my heart! she cries. Free me from the body! – she cries. Donne gives voice to both characters – being both characters. The seeming violence of the soul’s rhetoric is best understood as expressing the immediacy of her desire  – for the chaste union, death, that promises her liberation. Death’s consummation is understood, by the soul (by her) as a kind of erotic and spiritual ecstasy. But before the soul can be enthralled and freed, the body must be overthrown and broken. The body must be divorced from its betrothal to fear.

The sonnet, we realize,  begins with the same cry that ends it  – “ravish me”!

If you enjoyed this post, found it helpful or have more questions – please comment!

67 responses

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed your analysis of Donne’s Holy Sonnets. At 73 I am reading or re-reading things I had neglected for years. I was reading the script of “Wit” the other evening and found Holy Sonnet IX. Not one that typically surfaces but I found it fascinating. If you ever have the inclination I would love to see a detailed analysis of this Holy Sonnet as well.


    • Glad you enjoyed it. I’ve just been mulling over which poem to look up next. I’ve been leaning toward Yeats or Stevens, but Holy Sonnet IX might be enjoyable. The more I read of Donne, the more Donne I want to read.


    • Donne is not the easiest read in the world and I appreciate the help. ‘Nother question: Do you care for Wilfred Owen and the other serious WW I war poets?


    • Yes I do, though for different reasons. (And what do I mean by that? – I ask myself…)

      Poems of war (especially Owens) are powerful and haunting because they are poems of necessity (to coin a phrase). They don’t lend themselves to the quiet introspection of a poem by Stevens, Frost or Yeats. One doesn’t linger over a multitude of meanings or suggestive metaphors. The poems of war all speak to the self-same horror (of the necessity to express that horror). A single one of Owens’ poems is sufficient. One poem will resonate, and I can wait to read another.

      Does that make sense?


    • Yes it does. I recall from the dim past that T.S. Elliott didn’t think much of Owen as a poet and I never really understood why he took that position. I don’t mesh with all of Owen’s poems since I think some of them were of the “You had to be there to understand this completely” genre. I suspect that was why he turned to Sigfried Sassoon to mentor him if you will. Perhaps his easiest, at least to my mind, is “The Parable of the Old Man and The Young.” That one still works today. From WW II the “The Death of The Ball Turret Gunner” by Randall Jarrell has much the same bite.


  2. I could imagine what Eliot might say.

    But Owen didn’t have the luxury of time or leisure. He didn’t have an Ezra Pound he could correspond with, fussing over this or that line or phrase. One wonders what the effete Eliot would have come up with had he been slogging through the trenches.

    You must be familiar with Edward Thomas?


    • Aware but not all that conversant. I looked him up and read some of his poems, which I liked. He seems somewhat more polished in some ways than Owen.

      Poetry is a new-found pleasure and it is challenging for a number of reasons. Like most of my age I learned poems by Longfellow, Kipling, Poe etc etc during my school days but once into college and such there didn’t seem to be time for it. Now retired for some years I am re-reading many things and reading some for the first time. My college had a great books program which I detested being a science major. Looking back, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I just re-read Cicero on old age and it is unbelievable how much that old Roman learned in fifty years…. Much of my current poetry reading is driven by references from other literature that mentions or quotes a particular poem. As I find poets that strike some resonance with me I get their collected works and have it available on my shelf.


    • I only mentioned Thomas because he too is remembered, in some ways, as a war poet – though he didn’t start out that way.

      It’s been a long time since I read any Cicero. Someone who I’ve always wanted to read more of is Montaigne. He was, I think, Shakespeare’s favorite author. Montaigne’s words and ideas are sprinkled throughout the plays.

      Tell you what, I’ll write up Donne’s Sonnet IX. Don’t expect anything too quickly. My children crawl all over me at every opportunity. : )


  3. Pingback: Donne: His Sonnet IX • Forgive & Forget « PoemShape

  4. This is a great interpretation. I appreciate that it addresses a few concerns I had with the poem (the sexual imagery), which I interpreted differently on my first reading. While I know Donne considers his relationship with God a bit–differently–than most people, I had a hard time separating the speaker in the poem with Donne himself. I realize that the speaker calls for God to treat him brutally, but I missed the entire point that Donne speaks from a male and female perspective because, well, Donne is a man. I simply interpreted “heart” to mean “soul,” but not in the feminine sense. That he entwines masculine and feminine perspectives gives the poem several more layers of meaning, so I’m very glad you address it.


  5. This is an outstanding analysis of the poem. I’ve never read such an analysis. Being a student of ma in english i’d been looking 4 the best criticisms but i think my search ends here. i’d like to thank u very much. the effort was 100% nice.


  6. Don’t I wish that all editors would heed your warning about modernizations! The same applies when reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets, for me at least. They always register differently on the tongue and to the senses when I read them in the 1609 version.

    I really appreciated your illustration of the three people required to wield a battering ram! You’ve helped me get inside of John Donne’s initial vision, when he opened with that “three-person’d God”.

    Sometimes, I think poets get a bad rap, written off as starry-eyed wanderers. That doesn’t mean that they/we can’t be extremely real, and precise at the same time.


  7. Very insightful analysis. His inner battles and “snares” are so beautifully illustrated that reference to recurring themes in Biblical scripture are made clear, although I just can’t help but see a more modern parallel to Nirvana’s “rape me” in the final ley.


    • //just can’t help but see a more modern parallel to Nirvana’s “rape me”//

      Not sure I see it, especially given what Cobain himself said about the song, but maybe you have something else in mind?


  8. I have enjoyed your excellent posts on Donne, as good criticism has been hard to find online. I do raise a question about your conclusion, that the soul is desiring death and an escape from the body. From Donne’s concern in other sonnets and sermons about the state of the body after death and his desperate longing for resurrection, do you really think he is calling the body the “enemy”? This body/soul opposition seems more Platonic or even Gnostic than Christian, which emphasizes the problem is not with the physical body but with sin, a condition of both body and soul. Just a thought. Thank you for your enlightening analyses.


    • //From Donne’s concern in other sonnets and sermons about the state of the body after death and his desperate longing for resurrection, do you really think he is calling the body the “enemy”?//

      I was reviewing my post to see if I said as much. I think the enemy, to Donne, is reason, not the body. That said, and however the soul interprets freedom (as bodiless or a physical resurrection), there is still the whole matter of dying and death. Our earthly body must be destroyed before the soul can be liberated (one way or the other). The enemy remains fear. The earthly body must be undermined, ravished, broken and usurped. Donne’s sonnet expresses a deep fear of this necessity; as well as a deep desire to overcome this fear.

      Taken in that sense, I don’t think this interpretation in any way contradicts your understanding of Donne. Donne just wants to get it over with. He doesn’t want to be afraid. He doesn’t want to suffer. Let God transform him. Let the ravishment begin. You know, it’s as if he wants to skip the whole process of dying.

      //This body/soul opposition seems more Platonic or even Gnostic than Christian, which emphasizes the problem is not with the physical body but with sin, a condition of both body and soul.//

      The opposition that I sense from the sonnet has more to do with reason/fear than with body/soul. There’s certainly an element of body/soul opposition, but I think this springs more from the fear that his earthly body must suffer and decay before he can be liberated, freed, reborn. Does that make sense?


  9. Thank you for this explanation, it ties in very nicely with the very struggle most believers who are getting serious with God experience. Donne, although some criticise him as awkward, does put a finer edge upon the blade of a very heart felt cry for more of a relationship with God. lp in texas.


    • I’m not sure what you’re referring to? In the side by side comparison, the words which are in boxes serve to illustrate Donne’s original punctuation.

      In the scansion, the colored words show which feet in the metrical line are variant feet.


  10. I really appreciate your comments about the original spelling and punctuation. Being new into the world of poetry and analysis of such, I never would have realized the intention without your instruction.


    • Thanks River. Issues like this are especially prominent in Elizabethan poetry – less so in Restoration poetry and later. I wish editors (or the publishers who constrain them) did a better job clarifying their choices for readers like you.


  11. Upinvermont — The air you breathe is invigorating, to so infuse your criticism with both expertise and insight.
    I found you as I was searching for the date Donne wrote BMH. For years I’ve favored it as a theme for meditation, and all you’ve done is enrich it for me. The reason I wanted the date is to reply to a friend in a famuz 12-step program with near a hundred citations from its Big Book that” our thinking is the problem”; true enough, Donne’s passionate prayer carries the point and conveys the solution, more concisely, infinitely more elegantly. Way before “recovering” became a synonym for “living”.


    • What an interesting response, Martin. I’m well acquainted with the big book and am often struck by the ageless themes and struggles recognized in its pages. The thought inspires me to consider some poetry in that light. :-)


  12. GREAT analysis. very insightful and added hugely to my understanding and appreciation of the poem, which I have loved immensely since I first read it. thank you!


  13. Thank you for that analysis- it was really helpful. I wish I could write so good pieces of work. I’m sure I’ll come back to your blog, thanks.


  14. your analysis is completely clear to me. I really understand more the way you explicate the poem than any other website. I really have some difficulties in understanding and analysing poem in depth so if you can teach how to analyse like you did on this poem that will really help me throughout my A level English Literature course.


    • Hi Izad, it’s not teachable, but it’s learnable. If you love poetry enough, you will keep reading poems and you will read about poems. You can’t learn to solve quadratic formulas without the math that comes before. Likewise, you can’t analyze poems unless you’ve read enough of them and read enough about them. I do have advice though. If you’re going to analyze a poem by Donne, for instance, don’t assume you know the meaning of the words. Look them up. Don’t use a modern Dictionary, use something like the Shakespeare Lexicon because you don’t want to know what the words mean now, you want to know what the words meant then and to the poet. This is true of any poet in any age. Look up each and every word and understand all the possible meanings of those words. That’s basically how I do it. It also helps to know something about the poet’s life and the period of time in which he lived.


    • Asking me for a favor but posting anonymously isn’t exactly good netiquette. Tell me what you think an extended metaphor is, then tell me what you think it is in the poem. I’ll tell you if you’re on the right track.


  15. Thanks for this post; a really clear logical reading of the poem.

    I actually found this because, reading the poem last week with some of my students, I was asked what the difference was between Donne’s “mee” and “me”, both of which appear. Admitting I didn’t know, I tentatively suggested that it had to do with the sonorous nature of the poem and the qualitative differences between the two when spoken. From what I’ve read here, that sounds along the right lines. Thanks again!


    • Hi Martin, thanks for your comment. As you know, spelling wasn’t standardized in Donne’s day. You will notice that words like three, free, breathe, seeke, enemie, breake, blowe and even due, contain an extra, unnecessary ‘e’. One could indeed write, du instead of due, or thre or fre instead of three or free. We in modern times, have dropped the extra e in me, but not in three or free, or due. The extra ‘e’ was meant to denote a long vowel, rather than a short vowel. Thus, words like bend or mend don’t have the extra ‘e’. Notice, however, the words knocke and againe. What the extra ‘e’ at the end of knocke tells us is that Donne probably pronounced the ‘o’ in knock more as a long vowel. It probably sounded more like bloke, than block. The extra ‘e’ at the end of againe, likewise tells us that he pronounced this word with a long ‘a’, rather than short. :-)


    • Hi,

      Many thanks for this; while I knew that spelling wasn’t standardised, I thought it unlikely that in the space of 14 lines there would be such variance, hence the question. Anyway, that’s extremely helpful and I will report it back to my students.

      Just as a general comment I wanted to pass on how much I’ve enjoyed exploring this site. It’s a great resource and I’m extremely grateful for your time in creating it and generous response to comments!

      Best wishes,



  16. Wow this is an amazing analysis, this will really help me a lot, thank you :)

    By the way, what do the symbols mean above the words (when you are showing the rhyming pattern of the poem)? I know it is something to do with the stresses but i do not know in what rhythm to read it because i am not sure what the little symbols mean.

    Could you please explain that, thanks a lot :)


    • That was a great post! It was extremely helpful, and now I will know what I am talking about the Iambic Pentameter :)

      Thanks a lot!

      I am sure you are helping loads of people like me by making these posts, so keep it up, as you are doing an amazing job at explaining poetry, and poetry related things!! :)


  17. This has helped a lot. I have an assignment due soon and I have been struggling with the scansion part of it! I realize now it is because it is the newer version you referred to.


    • Hey Anon! I’m glad to hear that. That was the point of the post. I don’t know how students are expected to scan Donne’s poetry (especially) when modern editors so completely alter his intentions.


  18. Hi Anon, enemy and ‘I’ don’t rhyme in the 21rst century, but they were probably much closer in Donne’s day. No one knows exactly what an Elizabethan accent sounded like, but it certainly wasn’t the a modern British accent. Some scholars, based on hints (like this rhyme) think that Elizabethan English may have sounded subtly more American. Personally, I think that if you listen to some modern “pirate” accents, like in the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean”, you’ll hear something closer to an Elizabethan accent. I, yes, myself, gave an Elizabethan accent a try. You can listen to my attempt here:



  19. Pingback: Quick Read ❧ Sidney’s Sonnet 64 « PoemShape

  20. Excellent Work. :) u have worked in so much detail :)
    M soo happy, it will definitely help me alot
    But i have a question.., isn’t “Enemie” Satan….? How is this Donne’s ‘fear’.? Kindly help me with this..
    And isn’t “Battering” the ‘work of Goldsmith’..? As a goldsmith Batters gold, heats it, knocks n blows it and changes its shape…. So is this refering to goldsmith’s work or the weapon.?


    • //But i have a question.., isn’t “Enemie” Satan….?//

      That’s a possible interpretation. Looking back on the post, I think I found that interpretation unlikely because he writes that he’s “betroth’d”. His fear, to me, reflects a “lack of faith” and that, I think, is more an enemie to God than Satan (possibly in Donne’s view too). To be married to one’s fear is one thing. To be married to Satan is quite another and far more serious. Such an extreme didn’t seem implied by the rest of the poem.

      //How is this Donne’s ‘fear’?//

      Again, this is only an interpretation; but, as I wrote, Donne was horribly afraid of dying. That kind of fear belies any faith in an afterlife and belies any faith in God. Fear of death is a kind of betrayal — it’s the body’s fear and the soul is trapped within the walls of the body (if the body is thought of as a city).

      //And isn’t “Battering” the ‘work of Goldsmith’..?//

      Possibly, but I don’t see where this interpretation is supported elsewhere in the poem. Why would he need to be mended if he were already gold? Gold is immutable and can’t be, in the alchemical sense, “made new”.

      /As a goldsmith Batters gold, heats it, knocks n blows it and changes its shape….//

      Yes, but I don’t think that Donne would start off this poem by comparing himself to gold. To me, he makes himself something much more leaden and unresponsive.

      //So is this referring to goldsmith’s work or the weapon.//

      I don’t see either. To me, Donne, in a sense, opens the poem by asking God to destroy the walls of his body (his fear) and so remake him.


    • Thx :) u really are good at it :)
      but its all in our books :( that Battering is for Goldsmith or may be Ironsmith… And he is engaged to Satan as he has been following him and his deeds were bad, thats why now he wants to be mended…….
      Kindly help me with this :(


    • //but its all in our books…//

      Did they interview Donne? If not, I would want to know on what they based their interpretation. Just because it’s in a book doesn’t mean it’s any good or that the interpretation is any good. If you’ve read any of my analysis, then you know that I disagree with any number of authors and academics and give my reason for doing so. They have no more claim to validity than you or me. As to Donne being married to Satan, it’s possible, but here’s why I don’t like it: It makes the sonnet mundane. It makes the sonnet a struggle between God and Satan — how boring and expected. It’s far more interesting to interpret the sonnet as Donne’s struggle between God and himself. I think that’s more in keeping with the Elizabethan spirit of the times. I suppose academics could argue that the play harkens back to the mystery plays, but it’s equally arguable that Donne was echoing the individualism expressed in the Drama of his day.

      So, my advice is be informed. Read different interpretations, then make up your own mind. The only man who knew exactly what the poem intended was Donne – and he might have preferred to leave the interpretation to you. :-)

      P.S. About the whole goldsmith/metal smithing interpretation: I won’t go so far as to say it’s wrong, but it wrongly ignores the whole theme of a city under siege, the “usrupt town”. It’s all but obvious, between that image and the martial vocabulary of siege, vicory and captives, that Donne is inviting God to breach his “fortifications”.


    • Ok thx :)
      u r right that i shud consult more books and references, i always do, and thats how i came to read ur interpretation of this poem… :)
      well once again thx alot, i’ll definitely use ur material. :)


  21. Are there any specifically poetic techniques that you can identify in this poem, and also where in this poem other than points you have already raised is there evidence of a wider contextual point being raised, many thanks


    • :-) Hi Joe. You’re comment made me laugh. It sounds like you copied a homework assignment straight into the comment section.

      Three points I’ll make:

      Are there any specifically poetic techniques that you can identify in this poem?

      1.) Yes, there are poetic techniques that I can identify in this poem. I pointed out a number of them in the post: meter, rhyme, figurative language. The term “poetic techniques” is overly broad though, so your question is really too general to answer without more specifics.

      …where in this poem other than points you have already raised is there evidence of a wider contextual point being raised?

      2.) The phrase “wider contextual point” is a bit academic. To be honest, I’m not sure I know what you mean. What context are we talking about? — the other sonnets? — political and historical events? – the theological arguments current during the say? — the influences of other poets? So on and so forth… This question too, I think, is overly broad.

      3.) See this post or click on the Services page above.


  22. Pingback: Donne: His Sonnet V · Spank me, ô Lord « PoemShape

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: