John Donne is my very favorite poet of all time ever– he’s soooo my favorite that I don’t even think to include him in my list of favorites. Like, “I like e. e. cummings and Gerard Manley Hopkins– and of course John Donne and Shakespeare, because who doesn’t like them?” Of course, plenty of people don’t like his work, but those are people I choose to forgive. All of this is to say, I can’t believe I’ve never posted about Donne before. Time to fix that.
If reading poetry intimidates you, here’s a brief reminder of how to read a poem (it is not as easy as one might think) and have it make sense: 1. Read it three times, once out loud. 2. Look for ideas, especially contrasts, paradoxes, turns, and comparisons, and don’t get stuck on individual words (yet). 3. It can be helpful to try to find the building blocks common to sentences: subject (who’s doing a thing), verb (what is she doing?), and object (to whom is she doing it?). Not always, but usually. 4. After you get the overall feel, look up the words you’re unfamiliar with. Then read the poem again, out loud, with this in mind. Like any skill, reading poetry gets easier with practice. I know I say all of this every year. It’s just that I really love poetry, and I didn’t always, and I want everybody to be able to enjoy poetry as well.
And now, Donne:
The Soul to Her Rescuer
Batter my heart, three-personed 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 usurped town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue,
Yet dearly I love you, and would be love fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy,
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you you enthral me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
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