Batter my Heart by John Donne: Summary and Critical Analysis

Batter my Heart is one of the beautiful religious sonnets of Donne written in a petrarchan verse with the rhyming scheme abbaabba known as octave followed by the rhyme scheme cdccdc known as sestet. The poet here is picturing an afflicted lover of the God who is hurt because he is deviated from the holy path to the sinful path. He urges God to ravish his body and make him chaste.

John Donne (1572-1631)

The poet prays to God in his threefold capacity as the father, the son, and the Holy Ghost to batter his heart and reshape it. He is sunk in the tank of sin and method of persuasion is not going to work on him. God has knocked at him, blown his breath through his bellows and lighted the fire of his love and mercy to purify him and reshape him. But all these methods ended without attaining the end (Objective). So God should overthrow the poet and bend his force to break, blow and make him new and free from sin.

He is like "an usurped town", whose duty is to serve God, but he is occupied by the devil. He labors to let the God enter into his body (town), but it turns out a vain effort. Viceroy of God, i.e. the reason which is residing inside the poet captive and he has succumbed to the devil. Yet 'I love you' says the poet and he anticipates love in return. But he has engaged with God's enemy. He wishes, divorce, to untie or break the nuptial knot and he requests God to take him with him, imprison him and never-never shall let him free. He would be purified if God ravishes him.

The poem is a plea for God to enter and take over the poet's life, thus saving him from the power of Satan. It develops through three main images. The first is that of a potter or craftsman repairing a damaged vessel, and has behind it the idea of God as the creator. The next two image's both explain Donne's sinful nature by comparing him to the victim of a violent assault: first in military terms (he is like a town, which has been briefly captured and ruled by the enemy), and then in sexual terms (he is like a woman compelled to marry against her will). In each case Donne suggests that God must act in a similarly violent manner to save him, by retaking the town, or by ravishing the woman, and thus cancelling the wrong marriage.

The literalness with which these images of assault are developed is undoubtedly dramatic, but perhaps leaves the modern reader feeling uncomfortable. The idea that the Christian Church can be seen as the Bride of Christ comes from the Bible, but Donne's image makes Christ a ravisher, not just a husband. It is as if Donne feels that an image which is strong enough for other men and women is not powerful enough for him: others can be wooed into salvation, but Donne must be taken by force.

The paradox which drives the poem on is, however a profound one. On the one hand, Donne wishes to surrender himself entirely to God; on the other, he needs to feel that the self-claimed by God is still the unique Donne. The poem is both a total surrender to an all-powerful God, and — through its extraordinary verbal energy, as in the very first line — an assertion of Donne's personality. The same paradox is found in a later poem, 'A Hymne to God the Father'.

After the death of his wife in 1617 Donne felt more and more under the shadow of a terrible spiritual gloom. As his life drew near its close, Donne devoted his talent to carve religious sonnets. Batter my Heart is one of the products of this period of his life. Donne had put the world and the sensuous life completely behind him and was probing with fierce anxiety for the right relationship with the eternal. The poet is aware with his adulterated life and also with God's infinite greatness. He is conscious of his sinful nature, and he conveys his feelings in a language charged with sentimentality. Use of metaphor is extensive. He compares God with thinker and himself with a pot. He compares his soul with the town. This town, he confesses is inhabited by devils and he cannot be redeemed with ordinary mending so God should shatter him completely and re-shape him.

Donne's religious and his magnificent sermons reached astounding heights of subtlety and intensity. The searching of the soul and the horrified fascination with which he contemplated and realized his awful sin in "Batter my Heart" with amazing sincerity, intensity and earnestness is, of course noteworthy in the poem. The language has the same intensity with mood and experience and Donne's grand style of expressing noble thought in this poem deserves admiration.

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Sharma, K.N. "Batter my Heart by John Donne: Summary and Critical Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 11 Nov. 2013,