Summary of John Donne’s Batter My Heart, Three-Person’d God

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, also known as Holy Sonnet 14, is a poem written by John Donne.


The poet prays to God in His three-fold capacity as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost to shatter his heart, as with the blows of a battering ram, and then to reshape it. The poet is such a hardened sinner that gentler methods of persuasion would not serve any purpose in his case. Until now God, like a gentle tinker (a mender of old pots), has only knocked at him, blown his breath into him through His bellows, and lighted the fire of His Love and Mercy to purify him and re-shape him. But all these gentler methods have proved futile. So God should now use all his force to overthrow the poet, to overcome his stubbornness, and then to reshape and reform him.

The poet will be redeemed from sin only when God uses all His force to break his resistances and burn out his sins. He would be redeemed only when God with all His force blows His love and mercy into him. The poet is like a town, which owes its duty to God, its rightful owner, but it has now been illegally occupied by His enemy, the Devil. He tries his best to open the gates of the town, besieged by the Devil and his evil spirits and let God enter, but he remains helpless in his efforts. The Reasoning faculty is the Viceroy of God, but it is itself in captivity and so is helpless to defend the town (the poet). In other words, Reason, the God given faculty, should have saved the poet from sin, but the reason has remained helpless in this respect.

Despite all his sins, the poet loves God, as a woman loves her object of love, and wishes to be loved by Him in return. But the difficulty is that he is like a woman married to the Devil, God’s enemy, though in love with Him. The poet, therefore, prays to Him to release him from this captivity and make him a prisoner in His embrace. The poet wishes to be loved by Him and imprisoned by Him because it is only such an imprisonment that would make him really free (from evil). He should become perfectly chaste only when God has ravished him, i.e., fully possessed him. (Such possession of his body and soul by God would mean that he has been freed from the clutches of the Devil. Then he would be a sinner no more, but would become perfectly chaste.)

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