Holy Sonnet 2 by John Donne

As due by many titles I resign
Myself to thee, O God. First I was made
By Thee; and for Thee, and when I was decay’d
Thy blood bought that, the which before was Thine.
I am Thy son, made with Thyself to shine,
Thy servant, whose pains Thou hast still repaid,
Thy sheep, Thine image, and—till I betray’d
Myself—a temple of Thy Spirit divine.
Why doth the devil then usurp on me?
Why doth he steal, nay ravish, that’s Thy right?
Except Thou rise and for Thine own work fight,
O! I shall soon despair, when I shall see
That Thou lovest mankind well, yet wilt not choose me,
And Satan hates me, yet is loth to lose me.

Summary

As is proper, by virtue of the many titles that God bears, the poet resigns himself to God. He was first made by and for God. When he fell into wrong ways and thus abused and led into decay the qualities bestowed upon him, God’s blood took upon itself the taint. The poet, and mankind, is the son of God, made by God, God made man to shine by His divine glory. The poet is God’s servant, for whose mistakes God himself, as Christ, suffered pain and tortures. Man is God’s sheep. His image, all till man betrayed the divine trust placed in him, he was a temple for God’s divine spirit. The poet aks why the devil replaces God is the heart of man. Why does the devil steal and ravish man’s soul, which is, by right, God’s? Unless God gets up and decides to fight to save his own work, that is, man, the poet must soon despair, since he sees that God loves mankind but does not love him, while the devil hates him, and yet is not willing to relinquish his hold over him.

Analysis

This is Sonnet II of Donne’s “Holy Sonnets”. It shows the poet’s intense desire to devote self wholeheartedly to God, but at the same time it shows the painful struggle that goes on in his mind between this desire and the temptation that sin offers.

The poet is keenly conscious of his indebtedness to God. God made him and, when he was corrupted by sin, he was bought by God through Christ’s sacrifice. The poet believes himself to be God’s son, God’s servant, God’s sheep, God’s image, a temple for God’s Divine Spirit. Why does the Devil then exercise such a strong hold on him? Why does the Devil take by force what actually belongs to God? The poet wants God to use all his power to reclaim him. It is a pity that God loves all mankind and yet does nothing to get the poet back from the Devil’s clutches, while the Devil hates the poet and yet does not wish to lose him.

It is clear that the poet does not in any way try to cover up his sinfulness or to put up a pretence of piety. He frankly confesses that he is in the grip of the Devil. But though he tries to get out of the Devil’s grip, he fails in his effort and so needs God’s active help. He is on the verge of despair because the Devil’s hold on him is very tight.

The poet’s religous fervour is noteworthy. In calling himself God’s son, servant, sheep, etc. he shows his complete surrender to God and his complete humility. His appeal to God for rescue is characterized by perfect sincerity. Nor does he disguise his human frailty in being unable to shake off the Devil’s grip which holds him like a vice.

The poem is written in a simple, plain style. There is no metaphysical conceit here, unless it be the use of the word “ravish” to convey the idea of the Devil’s taking forcible possession of the poet. There is no obscurity of any kind in the poem.

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