Holy Sonnet 14,
“Batter My Heart, Three-Personed God”

John Donne

Edited by Jack Lynch

Donne uses a number of complicated metaphors. My notes tend to give the literal meanings of the words he uses, but he is almost certainly drawing on other more figurative meanings as well.

The copy-text is the first edition of 1633. Spelling, capitalization, and punctuation are preserved.

Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee, ’and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to’ another due, [5]
Labour to’ admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue,
Yet dearely’ I love you’, and would be lov’d faine,
But am betroth’d unto your enemie, [10]
Divorce mee, ’untie, or breake that knot againe,
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you ’enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.


three person’d God
Most Christian denominations believe in the Trinity, the notion that there is one God in three “persons,” the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
mee, ’and
The apostrophe — here and several more times in this poem — indicates that, metrically, the two syllables are to be run together. All these elisions appear when one word ends in a vowel sound and the next word begins with one. This preserves the usual ten syllables of the pentameter line: “That Í may ríse, and stánd, o’erthrów mee, ’and bénd.“
“One who acts as the governor of a country, province, etc., in the name and by the authority of the supreme ruler” (OED).
To captive is a rare verb, “To take captive, bring into captivity” (OED).
The word has a number of meanings: “to enslave; . . . to set or keep under the rule, control, or authority of oneself or another, to subjugate . . . to make slave-like, to debase,” but also “To subjugate or control (a person, the mind, will, judgement, etc.), either by means of artifice, sorcery, seduction, etc., or by possessing positive qualities such as beauty and charm,” and therefore “To capture or hold the attention of; to captivate, fascinate, hold spellbound&rquo; (OED).
“Pure from unlawful sexual intercourse; continent, virtuous” (OED).
Literally “To rape, violate,” but by extension “To transport (a person, the mind, etc.) with the strength of some emotion; to fill with ecstasy, intense delight, or sensuous pleasure; to entrance, captivate, or enrapture” (OED).