The Holy Sonnets By making many references to the Bible, John Donne's Holy Sonnets reveal his want to be accepted and forgiven by God. A fear of death without God's forgiveness of sins is conveyed in these sonnets. Donne expresses extreme anxiety and fright that Satan has taken over his soul and God won't forgive him for it or his sins. A central theme of healing and forgiveness imply that John Donne, however much he wrote about God and being holy, wasn't such a holy man all of the time and tried to make up for it in his writing.
In sonnet 1, the speaker is talking to God. He tells God that his death is near. He feels that with all of the sins he has committed he is leaning towards hell instead of heaven. Satan has tempted him too much and he doesn't know if he can even go an hour without giving in to Satan's evil ways.
The speaker asks God to give him wings so that he may ascend into heaven and prevent Satan from taking him to hell. There is a sense of manipulation in the speaker in the beginning of the sonnet. "Thou hast made me, and shall thy work decay?" In other words, "You're making your own creation look bad if you don't help me to become holy again." This starts out the sonnet with a bitter tone, a favorable way for Donne to begin. But in the end, the speaker is pleading God to give him wings, ending the sonnet with a sense of desperation. The worried tone of the last few lines is a rather common one in the Holy Sonnets. It exhibits the recurring theme of fear and need for acceptance.
The speaker in sonnet 5 starts off by using the metaphor that he is a world. He is made craftily and "of an angelike sprite;" implying holiness. He then goes on to say that he has sinned and needs both parts of his world to be cleansed and renewed. He asks God to give him more seas, a world's tears continuing the metaphor, to wash his sin away. Then the speaker makes a Bible reference. He asks the Lord to burn him. It is said in the Bible that the end of the world will be caused by fire. This reference is saying that the speaker wants God to destroy his world now so that he can start anew and forget about his sins in the past. Again we see the theme of sin and the want to be healed and accepted. By using this metaphor in the sonnet, he gives himself a lot of credit. To say that he is a world which God must pay so much attention to creates extreme self-significance. And to make the allusion that the actions of the Bible would be appropriate to be put to use on such an unholy world seems a little absurd.
The end of the world is how sonnet 7 starts out. This is a reminder of the fire reference in sonnet 5, to which sonnet 7 has a strong connection. In this sonnet, the speaker wants to repent so that he will not die like the other mortals who sin. "All whom the flood did, and fire shall, o'erthrow," is an allusion to the Bible once again: the great flood, which Noah built his ark for, and the fire which is to cause the end of the world. And in the first two lines, Donne makes a specific allusion to the book of Revelation 7.1: "I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth." Donne instructs the angels to blow (end the world.) Another bitter beginning in sonnet 9 is apparent. The questions set the tone to be somewhat childlike. The speaker thinks that just because humans have intent and reason we should not be considered more evil than animals that sin in the same situation. In the ninth line, the tone of the sonnet shifts from a bitter protest to a cowardly plea. The speaker realizes that he is talking to a supreme being and cannot win. Once more, he asks for the forgiveness of his sins and to be accepted by God.
Sonnet 10 illustrates personification. The speaker addresses Death, mocks him, and claims that Death is not as powerful as he is thought to be. He says that Death doesn't control as much as people thinks he does; other factors cause people to die, not Death. By personifying Death, Donne can confront the fear he has and demean Death. At the end of the sonnet the speaker insults death in the worst way by saying that he shall die. This gives God a great compliment by implying that He is much more powerful than Death and all will believe in Him, granting everyone eternal life. The 14th of the Holy Sonnets goes back to the theme of the previous four. The speaker in this sonnet talks to the Trinity. Donne begins with a different tone than he has in the last few sonnets. Instead of a bitter beginning, he chooses an opening of praise. He asks God, ever so politely, to renew him. The speaker tells God that he is in great debt to Him. He prays to God that he will be loved as much as he loves. But the speaker feels dedicated to Satan. He asks God to break his promise to Satan and make him morally pure. This sonnet brings us back to the idea that the speaker in these sonnets has sinned deeply and needs to be forgiven or else he will go to hell. After reading this sonnet I was reminded of sonnets 9 and 5. These three of the seven Holy Sonnets cited in this book are the most concerned with forgiveness of sins and being accepted by God. They each are like prayers, begging for God to hear them.
After reading through and analyzing the Holy Sonnets, it is clear to me that John Donne had a great appreciation for God. He used his writing to express his love for God. In the Holy Sonnets, there are many allusions made to the Bible and references to Satan. By doing so, not only could he praise God, he could degrade all of those opposing God and what seemed to be one of Donne's biggest fears, death.