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Openings and Endings in John Donne's Holy Sonnets

Essay by   •  June 2, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  3,278 Words (14 Pages)  •  1,798 Views

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Abstract

This paper examines the openings and endings in John Donne's Holy Sonnets. By approaching this literarily important topic, I clarify the significance and functions which those opening and endings have and by which Donne's sonnets are marked to be original. The paper tackles them in their context, i.e. clarifying the connection between the opening or ending of a sonnet with its content, and it tries to create a general pattern for the functions of most of them. The paper is divided into two major sections elaborating on those functions. The first section explores the openings, and the endings are discussed in the second section. Data have been collected from books, articles and online websites and my personal analysis due to the shortage of resources discussing this topic in a direct way.

Outline

Topic: Openings and Endings in Donne's Holy Sonnets

I- Introduction

II- Openings in Donne's Holy Sonnets

A- Represent a source of Donne's persuasive style

1- Holy Sonnet I

2- Holy Sonnet V

B- Resolve the case

1- Holy Sonnet X

2- Holy Sonnet VI

C- Introduce drama into the poem

1- Holy Sonnet III

2- Holy Sonnet XVII

III- Endings in Donne's Holy Sonnets

A- Twist the argument

1- Holy Sonnet X

2- Holy Sonnet XVII

B- Ask for God's intervention

1- Holy Sonnet V

2- Holy Sonnet I

IV- Conclusion

Introduction:

The metaphysical poets, led by John Donne, are professionals in subduing all the parts of a poem to express themselves and their ideas perfectly. A distinctive characteristic of their poetry is novelty and originality which is achieved through violating all the norms of traditional poetry. One of these norms is addressing God and asking Him for forgiveness and purgation from sins with a sense of weakness and submission. This could be sensed in Donne's endings where he loses hope and closes his sonnets with desperate ends pleading for God's intervention for his sake. With the most of the openings of the Holy Sonnets, this is not the case, however. There, Donne strikes his God with his vulgarity and boldness. Therefore, the openings and the endings in John Donne's Holy Sonnets will be the focus of this paper where I shed the light on their originality, functions and significance.

Openings

Openings in John Donne's poems are a major metaphysical feature. In the Holy Sonnets, Donne builds a case which is being a sinner yearning for salvation. However, he manipulates words and lines while elaborating on this case. Though a sinner, he authorizes himself to shout at God, to give Him orders and to address Him in a vulgar colloquial manner in the opening lines, and the most famaous example of this attitude is his Holy Sonnet XIV where he opens with "Batter my heart" and proceeds " knocke, breathe ... o'erthrow mee and bend". Such openings, therefore, grab the reader's attention by their abruptness and immediacy. For this, Donne's openings and even endings are famous quotes in all walks of life for their brevity, sharpness, wisdom and novelty. Not only those openings strike the reader by their originality, but also they have important functions. Millan (2007) states that openings of the Holy Sonnets represent a source of Donne's persuasive style, resolve the case, and introduce drama into the poem, thus involving the reader in action.

First, openings of the Holy Sonnets represent a source of Donne's persuasive style. In the Holy Sonnet I, Donne opens saying "Thou hast made me, And shall thy worke decay? / Repaire me now, for now mine end doth haste". These opening lines reflect a persuasive and urgent call to God. Targoff (1992:110) states that the opening line raises three major concerns. First, it asserts the poet's divine status by mentioning vividly that he is a creation of God "Thou hast made me". Second, it tells that he is in a state of deterioration "decay". Third, it suggests blaming God for His failure in fulfilling his obligation to His own work "shall thy work decay". These three major points raised in the opening of Sonnet I, in addition to his declaration that his death is near in the second and the third lines "for now mine end doth haste" and "I runne to deathe", are Donne's reasons to persuade God to cleanse him form his sins as well as to persuade the reader to believe in his reasons and sympathize with him.

Another example is Donne's Holy Sonnet V where he opens by saying "I am a little world made cunningly". In this line, he asserts his divine status again by using the phrase "Angelike spright". And the use of the passive construction "I am made" aids to persuade God to interfere since he is saying that he was made in this state and he did not choose it. This opening sentence is a bold and direct expression and a reason for the requests presented in the following lines when the speaker says "My worlds both parts... must die.", then he says "Drowne my world with my weeping earnestly, / Or wash it if it must be drowned no more; / But oh it must be burnt!). Also, the use of the word "cunningly" strikes the reader with its strength and stresses the urgency of his case, i.e. being a sinner in immediate need for forgiveness before he dies. Thus, the opening lines of this poem represent a source of Donne's persuasiveness while attempting to urge God to purify him from his sins.

Second, openings of the Holy Sonnets resolve the case. Unlike the Shakespearean sonnets where the resolution is reached at the final couplet, Donne determines the results of his arguments in the opening lines. For example, in his Sonnet X, Donne starts saying "Death be not proud", thus resolving the whole issue of struggle against the power of death. While reading the

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