As the very title of the sonnet suggests, it is a passionate and forceful appeal to God to take possession of the poet’s heart. The intensity of the poet’s feeling is conveyed by the word ‘batter’. To batter means to pound repeatedly, to deal heavy repeated blows, to beat persistently and hard.The poet vehemently prays to the Christian Trinity—God the Father, God the Son (Christ) and God the Holy Ghost to take possession of his heart by force. According to Leishman, it reveals the poet’s “agonised striving” to be possessed by God and gives expression to it through the analogy of an usurped town during war and then of a beloved under the forcible possession of the adversary of the lover. “Any mild and persuasive action will not help in the transformation of the poet. The poet is a confirmed sinner and only drastic action against him will change him. A total regeneration is not possible without a powerful and violent action of God.” According to F.W. Payne, the sonnet expresses adequately “in its striking metaphor and its forceful diction, his burning desire for an assurance of forgiveness” R.G. Cox feels that in the ‘Holy Sonnets’ of which this poem is one, the method of expression and style is the same as that of love poems. “As in love poetry here too, is a considerable variety of tone and method ranging from mere casuistry and debating tricks to a profound urgency and conviction and sometimes both may be found together.” In this sonnet, the poet treats God as a conqueror or a ravisher. This is rather an unusual comparison. The plea of the poet is that unless God acts with force and vigour, He will not mend his ways. The way down-hill is quick and easy, the way uphill is difficult and strenuous. Only God’s might may push him up on the spiritual path.
DEVELOPMENT OF THOUGHT
The poet appeals to God to transform his inner being. As he is a great sinner, mild methods will not succeed with him. God the Tinker, need not use gentle methods like ‘knock, breathe, shine and seek to amend’. He must use harsh and rough methods. Just as the tinker, in order to reshape the pot, must ‘break, blow and burn’ the metal to give it a new shape, in the same way God must overpower him and use violent methods to reshape and remould him.
The poet compares himself to an usurped town. His soul belongs to God, but has been taken away by the Devil. He himself is willing to pay his homage to God, but he cannot do so because he is under the power of the Devil. Reason is God’s Viceroy, but even Reason is unable to oppose the might of the Devil. Therefore, God should use force and release him from the horrible clutches of evil forces. Thus alone he can be saved from damnation.
The poet clarifies his position through the metaphor of lover-beloved relationship. The poet is the beloved while God is the lover. According to tradition, God is the man, while human beings are all females. The poet’s soul loves God and desires to be united with Him. However, she has been forcibly betrothed to the Devil. He is a slave of the Devil and God alone can rescue him. God should sever his connection with evil and redeem him from wickedness. God should accept him as a beloved and take him into His arms. Now he is a slave of the Devil but let God make a slave of him. The poet feels that he can never be purified till God consummates his union with him. Then alone he will be free from sin and evil.
This use of sensual relationship for holy transformation need not be objected to: ‘Imprison me, enthrall me, ravish me’ only show the intensity of the poet’s feeling who wishes to be totally owned and possessed by God. There is a great use of paradox in the poem. Donne’s relation with God is expressed through several paradoxes. Donne can only rise if he is once thrown by God; he can be free only if he is imprisoned by God and he can be chaste only if he is ravished by the Almighty. Another paradox is based on the maxim: preparedness for war is the best guarantee of peace. The poet can gain peace of mind only when God uses violence and snatches him away from the Devil. The tinker must use harsh and violent methods to break the vessel and then reshape it. Similarly, God should burn the impurities in him through the fire of the bellows. The metaphor of the usurped town to be taken by the lawful owner is quite appropriate. Similarly, the usurped body who is in the possession of the Devil should be rescued by God. Freedom and purity can come only through divine consummation.
The idea of violence runs throughout the poem like an undercurrent. The hammering of the tinker or the blacksmith is followed by the siege and capture of the besieged town. The marriage is followed by ravishment. There is a continuous comparison of secular love to divine love. Donne’s artistry is evident in his expression of physical love which is used to advantage in portraying holy love. The use of sensual imagery cannot be regarded as incongruous because in the final analysis, it conveys the sincerity and confessional frankness of the poet as a true slave of God.