Literature Analysis of John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14
John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14 shows a speaker pleading and demanding God to be more forceful in his ways to save him because His gentle ways aren’t effective anymore, and only dominating power and brute force will be able to save him from his sin. This can be seen in the paradoxes of freedom through imprisonment, emphasis on sounds, and metaphors of towns and marriages. The dominating paradox in this sonnet argues that for the speaker to be free, he must be enslaved, and throughout the poem, we get more examples of these contradictions, with the most prominent ones in the last two lines pointing out that “Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,/Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me” (13-14).
It’s likely that the speaker feels divided between his Heavenly love for God and his earthly love for pleasure, but it can also be argued that since the demand he’s describing is no ordinary request, his contradictions reflect that. By asking God to treat him in such a violent matter and essentially rape him, he’s asking God to commit an otherwise deadly sin; however, because God is pure and holy, the rape is an extreme attempt to break him from his sins rather than becoming a sin itself.
Another contradiction arises when the speaker says, “That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend/Your force” (3-4). Besides the obvious contradiction of rising to stand only to be overthrown again, there is also enjambment in the mix. While the line can be read as “o’erthrow me, and bend your force”, the line break hints at a double meaning to overthrow and bend him instead. These paradoxes give the poem a feeling of insecurity which could also express/mirror the speaker’s inner turmoil about what he really wants and how to ask for it. Additionally, since sonnets were typically used to woo women, by using a sonnet to speak about religious matters, we have more evidence to believe that the speaker is mixing the Heavenly and earthly matters.
The sound devices used in this poem emphasize the vicious force the speaker requires of God so that he can be freed of his sins. Starting with the first word of the sonnet, the speaker violates the iambic pentameter that’s typical of sonnets by having a stressed syllable. Not only does this start off the sonnet almost theatrically, but the violation reflects the unusual requests of the speaker as well. When the speaker requests God to “break, blow, [and] burn” him, we also see the alliteration.
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