Break, Blow, Burn
By Camille Paglia
PantheonCopyright © 2005 Camille Paglia
All right reserved.
Holy Sonnet XIV by John Donne
Batter my heart, three-person'd God; for you As yet but knock, breath, 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 usurp'd 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 the 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.
"For deliverance from life's thronging temptations, however, Donne needs radical, even violent aid: "bend/Your force to break, blow, burn and make me new" (3-4). The soul-vessel must be hacked to pieces and melted down over high heat to purge its impurities. The aggressive alliteration-a barrage of explosive b sounds-makes us feel the trauma of destruction before rebirth. There are sexual innuendos in "make me new" and also in "That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me," a paradox conflating erection with resurrection (3). Spiritual victory strangely requires defeat by God, since man is too weak to achieve redemption on his own. A higher self must be forged from the wreckage of his old identity." -p.32