Analysis Of Holy Sonnet 19 By John Donne

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‘Intellectually, Donne had always been a Christian, but his progress toward religious assurance was hindered by his sense of Roman Catholic outlawry, his shift to the Church of England, his moral lapses, the worldly disaster of his marriage, and his restless mind.’ (Douglas Bush)
Consider the detailed treatment of ‘religious assurance’ in any three or four poems by Donne from the course.
John Donne was an extremely complex character who lived a life that was full of religious contradictions and uncertainties. These problems that Donne battled in his personal life are reflected in many of his poems, particularly the Holy Sonnets. Donne was born into a Catholic family at a time when Catholicism was forbidden in England and as a result, suffered
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Throughout the sonnet, the speaker reveals he is not a particularly loyal follower of God, he states that ‘I change in vows, and in devotion./As humorous is my contrition’ This reflects Donne’s personal feelings regarding his decision to change religion and suggests that the speaker views himself as being unreliable and a generally bad worshipper of his lord. This adds to the argument that the sonnets display a lack of religious assurance as in these lines the speakers lack of assurance about his own faith is obvious. This shows the reader that Donne’s speaker feels some justification for his inability to gain salvation as his faith is everchanging. The speaker goes on to talk of his ‘profane love’ which is ‘soon forgot’ when referring to how he feels about God. The idea that someone could have a love for God which could be described as profane is problematic and is an example of a Petrarchan paradox which is a literary technique often employed in sonnets. The use of this paradox draws the reader’s attention to how insincere and inconsistent the speakers love for God is. It points to a love of God that is motivated by the desire to receive salvation rather than to actually worship God. This superficial way of worshipping God continues towards the end of the poem where the speaker states that ‘today/in prayers and flattering speeches I court God:/Tomorrow I quake with true fear of his rod’ Again, these lines add to the idea that the speaker’s worship of God is less to do with the love the speaker feels for God and more to do with the fear that God has imposed upon the speaker. As the poem ends, the speaker compares his faith to a ‘fantastic ague’ and states this his ‘best days’ are when ‘I shake with fear.’ The use of the word ague to describe his devotion to God likens his religion to an illness and suggests that it comes and goes, much like a
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