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Symbolism Meaning: Donne's Holy Sonnet XIV

John Donne, the infamous metaphysical poet, wrote his collection of nineteen poems 'Holy Sonnets' in a period of evident adversity in his physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Unlike typical literary symbolism, Donne provides 'Holy Sonnet XIV' little ambiguity. Therefore, this allows Donne's overwhelming feelings to be described through the powerful and vigorous phrases in the poem that represent Donne's desperation to be used by God's vitality.

'Holy Sonnet XIV' is written with a hyperbolic depth that supports many erotic connotations. It is in the ultimate couplet, that Donne describes how he 'never will be free' unless God 'ravishes' him. This powerful image of a rape that is deemed as holy creates a paradox between purity and sin, symbolising God dominating Donne with ultimate control to be unified as you in the anticipation of gaining an immortal partner. This concept of your transcendent sexual act is visible in a few of the other 'Holy Sonnets' which were written by Donne, including the image of holy whore in 'Holy Sonnet XVIII' which implies that he was at the moment, crying out for something astonishing (God) to satisfy his every emotion. It might also be interpreted that Donne uses this paradox to symbolise his strive towards perfection. In the early seventeenth century, religious alchemy was still very popular in Europe. It appears that Donne was alert to this metaphysical research and the similarities it shared with Christianity which he writes about in his last sermon, 'Death's Duel'. An alchemist presumed that becoming a hermaphrodite was a stage in the process before perfection and it might have been realized by Donne that in becoming so intimately unified with God, he'd accomplish that neutrality that would 'make [him] new'. However, it is not likely that Donne would actually keep this opinion as he had not been only given birth to into a demanding Roman Catholic family but was also ordained as a priest in the Anglican Cathedral at the time which suggests he kept onto firm Religious concepts. Donne exclaims further on in the poem how he desires to be shattered directly into and 'batter[ed]' with a shout of 'O, to no end'. This symbolises Donne's sexual urge to be possessed with drive in order to achieve that exclusive familiarity with God that, possibly, he never noticed the necessity to have until his wife Ann passed on and he was kept without this kind of romance. However, a better interpretation is that Donne is wanting to integrate his physical dreams with his interest for God so he can stop his ongoing struggle between your two.

Donne uses the prolonged metaphor of any 'city' not only in 'Holy Sonnet XIV' but also in 'Loves Warfare'. In this Elegy that was written in Donne's young ones, he represents a 'free Citty' which 'thyself allow to anyone' - a metaphor for how anyone can enter a woman - and goes onto say how within he would like to 'batter, bleede and dye'. Here, Donne is controlling the 'city' and taking over it himself, however, if Donne intended to utilize this same metaphor in 'Holy Sonnet XIV', the assignments have evolved and it now implies how it is Donne who needs to be seized by God's soul. Furthermore, this presents how Donne's life and for that reason attitude has transformed between writing these poems; he used to feel in charge but now he's controlled.

The physical verbs that are being used immediately sets the violent theme of the octave. The spondaic feet emphasises Donne's cry for God to 'break, blow' and 'burn off' his center so he can become 'imprisoned' in God's electricity, setting up a paradoxical image of a benevolent God performing in a brutal way. He runs on the metaphysical conceit to describe how he is 'like an usurp'd town' with God's viceroy (reason) in him. This imagery of warfare that pervades the sonnet symbolises his heart and soul at battle with himself; only when God actually 'overthrow's' Donne and 'batters' his sinful center will he be able to 'divorce' the devil. It was around the time of writing this poem that Donne renounced his Catholic upbringing which gives information to the assumption that the sin he was fighting began to overpower his Christian values and needed God become as real to him as God was to his respected Catholic parents. Furthermore, in 'Holy Sonnet XVII' Donne exclaims how 'though [he] have found [God], and thou [his] thirst hast given, a holy thirsty dropsy melts [him] yet. This discloses that Donne seems that even though he has found God, his yearning is unhappy which gives information towards the assumption that he is crying out for religious ecstasy. This paradox between freedom and captivity was most frequently discussed by most jail poets such as Richard Lovelace Donne wrote, 'Except you enthrall me, never shall be free' which suggests the same idea as Loveless in 'To Althea, From Prison' that true freedom is inner, not exterior, symbolising his struggle with sin whilst he's actually free.

The religious symbolism that Donne unmistakably uses shows his devotion to the Bible. Critics have mentioned that Donne 'got the scriptures with a radical and bizarre literality which provided both novelty and element to traditional ideas'. This is certainly mirrored in 'Holy Sonnet XIV' when Donne pleads that he 'may go up' and be made 'new' which connotes the idea of a resurrection, just like he thought Jesus had done. Furthermore, 'batter my heart, three-person'd God' could be associated with close biblical sources such as how God will 'repair the broken-hearted and bind up their wounds', consequently, interpreting this expression as Donne anxious to take refuge in God so his 'serious mourning' for his beloved late partner would stop. A form of personification, prosopopoeia, is employed often in the bible ('Do not arouse or awaken love before it pleases' Song of Solomon 8:4) and, in the same way in Donne's work. He uses this device of 'personified abstraction' in 'Holy Sonnet X - Loss of life Be Not Proud' and again in Holy Sonnet XIV when he expresses how 'Reason' is God's 'viceroy' in him. One critic says that prosopopoeia is 'a form of projection or displacement. . . a rhetorical term for the mental phenomenon we call 'hearing voices'' that could carry some validity considering Donne's financial and marriage insecurities at that time. However, despite this loose connection to Donne's mental state, a more likely interpretation is the fact Donne has used this product to carefully turn 'imaginary entities into lifelike agents' to accomplish cognitive understanding into an abstract theory that Donne experience; God has breathed reason - the substitute of God - however, this form of defence has 'proved weak'. This may represent Donne's resentment towards God and display tones of hatred as he thinks God has failed to overcome his sin through reason, perhaps with some emotions of doubt towards His lifetime. However, it is illogical to interpret this expression in this manner as Donne is known to have devoted his very existence to his religion and love of God. It is more likely that Donne is saying this showing his acknowledgement of how reason is not enough in the past to lure him from sin but is pleading for God to defeat the devil with every ounce of reason there is, which he does not deny is present, even if it brings about a 'batter[ed] heart'.

Donne has structured this poem as a Petrachan sonnet, after the Italian poet Petrach. The octave includes an ABBAABBA rhyme structure followed by a sestet with the rhyme carrying out a CDCDEE pattern. The sestet grades the Volta, using the conjunction 'yet', which signifies a different point of view on the initial topic and in this case, the reader perceives Donne turn from a anxious state to more reflective build as he says how he 'loves' God and 'would be enjoyed fain'. This product puts focus on this line, stopping the explosive climax in the octave progressing, which symbolises Donne's essential emotions towards his God. Furthermore, Petrachan sonnets were typically used to make reference to a thought of unattainable love and frequently presented the subject as a style of perfection. There is absolutely no doubt that Donne used this verse form consciously, representing the adoration for God that Donne wanted to display through the sonnet to replace any women that would typically be the topic. These factors being taken into account dismiss any cases that Donne is trying to struggle God to show Himself and His brilliant ability that is viewed in the bible. Surely, if Donne doubted God's existence he would not have been so dedicated to his job of preaching and providing sermons.

Literary symbolism is 'characterised with a shimmering surface of suggestive meanings without a denotative core' however, it is visible that Donne hasn't taken this delicate strategy when writing 'Holy Sonnet XIV'. The poet has quite definitely used suggestions to 'stand for' something else throughout the poem to portray his emotions which arguably will not deliver a wording that has 'wealthy plurality'. Ironically, this symbolises Donne's forthright and anxious appeal to God which facilitates a critic's observation that 'a sense of emergency is a feelings of Donne's highly wrought poetry throughout his life' where to waver his words is no option. As a result, 'Holy Sonnet XIV' lacks the ambiguity a reader typically expects from a reading of symbolism however it is vital to discover that poetic style had not been acknowledged until the 'late nineteenth century in the task of Baudelaire, Verlaine and Mallarm' which certainly suggests that Donne did not consciously utilize this literary strategy to convey his interpretation behind the poem. It must be acknowledged that Donne is renowned to be an ingenious metaphysical poet. Therefore, and then a small amount has Donne only used direct symbolism expressing his contrasting feelings but rather the bizarre paradoxes, the vivid imagery, the initial conceits and the inventive metaphors all fundamentally represent Donne's desperation to be consumed in God's magnificent and overwhelming power.

Becca Campbell-Jones T58

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