Monday, August 18, 2008

Summer Poets - John Donne

CS lewis once referred to his conversion as 'reluctant', and many other Christians too have worried that their acceptance of faith might in some way rob them of their freedom. Critics of faith sometimes refer to conversion as 'intellectual suicide' or 'brain-washing'.

John Donne (
1772-1631, a late convert from Roman Catholicism and ultimately Dean of St Paul's Cathedral) was a famous versifier of sex, death and religion. Perhaps reflecting his own complex experiences, his sonnet here picks up St Paul's strange imagery about being at war with oneself and seeking freedom.

Contrary to today's popular notion, Donne echoes St Paul's paradoxical conclusion that 'perfect freedom' for the Christian is in fact not autonomy, but service of God. Embracing faith can sometimes - for some - involve 'intellectual suicide', but others find that a strange freedom in being 'possessed by God'.

Batter my heart, three-person'd God

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.


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