Sunday, September 17, 2006

John Donne: Violence and Sexual Deviancy Converted Into the Chaste Holy Fires of the Delivered

Thomas Carew, in his brilliant elegy for the great British metaphysical Christian poet John Donne, writes:

"...But the flame

Of thy brave Soule, that shot such heat and light,
As burnt our earth, and made our darknesse bright,

Committed holy Rapes upon our Will,

Did through the eye the melting heart distill;

And the deepe knowledge of darke truths so teach,

As sense might judge, what phansie could not reach;
Must be desir'd for ever... "

"Committed holy Rapes upon our Will"?! Carew seems here to make an indirect allusion to Donne's unexpected analogies with violence and sexual deviancy in his poetry (for instance when he says that he will never be chaste unless God ravishes him, or when he says that God is most pleased with the church when she is opened to most men), baffling and counterintuitive in their transformation of a dirty subject and, for the sinner like me, heart constricting for their conversion of the impure into a holy lesson. Like the parable of Jesus of the shrewd and corrupt servant left in charge of his masters finances who uses them to gain friends when he realizes that he will soon be cut loose, Donne's poetry is more earthen and real than otherworldly pieties are likely to permit or approve. This comes from Donne's life reflected in his poetry as he converts overtime from erotic excesses and profligacy (he wrote bawdy love poetry and caused scandal by eloping with a fifteen year old) into a saintly provisioner of true food (he was faithful and devoted to her the remainder of his life) in the black plague years in England as the Dean of St Paul's Church, writing some of the greatest Christian sermons and poems of all time. Here is one of Donne's great poems, a prayer that many like me who have fallen to the wiles of Ashteroth and the pleasure goddesses of this age may hope to say in our soul in full freedom and earnestness, that the sexually broken may be brought to chastity as Donne was:

"Batter My Heart"
by John Donne

Batter my heart, three person’d God, for, you
As yet but knock, breathe, 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 usurpt 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 faine,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy,
Divorce me untie, or break that 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.

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