Religious Renewal and Sexual Masochism in "Batter my heart, three person'd God"
In Donne's Holy Sonnet, "Batter my heart, three person'd God," themes of religious renewal and sexual masochism are abundant. While religious renewal is clearly the front-most, and most clearly defined meaning of the poem, the poet's choice of words and subtle analogies leave the poem wide open for speculation in sexual meaning.
That John Donne was a preacher, the fire and brimstone, evangelical ringings of religious renewal in this poem are well founded. A man's soul, invaded by Satan's sin, must be purged by whatever means necessary by God's force. Donne associates his corrupted soul with that of an "usurp'd towne," invaded by an enemy (Satan), but "to'another due," (the Trinity). He asks God to break the impurity by force and to beat his soul clean and into repentance. While this all makes sense on the first level, there are many dualities, and sexual undertones present in the poem.
Several words in the poem contain multiple meanings, further promoting the mingling of the sacred and profane throughout the poem. Particularly towards the end of the poem, these words help to justify what the reader might have guessed at earlier in the poem. 'Enthrall,' for example, used in the sense of something God does to the poet, can mean 'to hold or capture, enslave', (having a negative connotation) or 'to hold spellbound by pleasing qualities' (having a positive connotation). This makes unclear, or at least arguable, Donne's attitudes toward the emotions involved in being taken by God, as well as the possibility of pleasure found in a sexual act being described. Another, 'betroth'd,' usually means 'to engage (frequently a woman) in the contract of marriage.' A second meaning, however, is the 'creation of the relationship between God and his church or people.' The irony lies in the word's use in the poem: "and would be lov'd faine, / But am betroth'd unto your enemy," indicating that the poet's soul is married to Satan, while simultaneously twisting the second meaning of the word.
Several instances in the poem seem to indicate that the poet, or speaker, is a...