Batter My Heart – John Donne

Holy Sonnets: Batter my heart, three-person’d God  

John Donne  

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Batter my heart, three-person’d 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 usurp’d town to another due,  

Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;  

Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,  

But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.  

Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,  

But am betroth’d unto your enemy;  

Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,  

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,  

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,  

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Analysis

This is perhaps, the most famous of all the John Donne sonnets to be mentioned in popular culture in the last fifty years or so, because it has been taken over by evangelical Christians in this world of ours, to be something of a special poem, requesting something equally special from God.

Starting with the opening words, we see the request, presumably from the person who sees themselves as a sinner in need of a loving God, who is asking the Lord to do something more than usually happens in their communicative and prayerful lifestyle and relationship. This is a poem about relationship with God, how we can get close to the Lord our God in such a way as to feel the love that is supposed to exist there.

The poet asks, “Batter my heart,” which is suggestive of the fact that the person cannot get close to his belief of who and what God is, someone whose relationship has not been allowed to flourish yet and seeing as how any relationship is a two way affair of the heart, it is only right to think of a relationship with God in the same way. “Batter” is an interesting verb. It is not a soft dealing with God that he is asking for. It is not a tender thing he is asking for. This is a battering, a sense of destruction, where he is asking the Lord to destroy everything that gets in the way of what keeps him from getting that close to his Lord. He wants his heart battering into submission in such a way as to show that he has been changed from within.

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As he is requesting this heart battering, itself the most famous line of this poem, he is also asking that God would “knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend” anything that hurts him, or gets in the way. Christians, you see, need to feel that it is God they are placing first in their lives. The first commandment, to love the Lord your God with all you have [Deuteronomy 5: Bible] is the key commandment. It is a case of God first. Others next. Ourselves last. It always has been and always shall be.

So, give my heart a battering, he is saying, and knock, shine and mend my heart. He is asking this so that he can then rise up from the ashes of his spiritual death he is in now, into the radiance that he believes he can and will find in a true and loving relationship with God. He knows the force which is needed to change him is massive. He knows that these words of strength; “break,” and “burn” are power words, the sort that paint a picture in the head of the reader to bring about a feeling of natural strength used in a supernatural way.

“Make me new,” he adds. He feels like he is a “usurped town,” which is an interesting use of the words and means that he feels like a town that has been captured and is in need of being rescued. He wants it that God is the one who does the rescuing. For this writer, this is the only option. When a Christian believer sees the extent of their wrong doing, or their sin as it is called, they then feel worthless in the sight of a holy God. As much as they “labour to admit” to the God that they love that they have done wrong, it never stops. That is the problem with sin and sinning; it keeps on happening, but here, the poet is asking God to mould him, make him, bend him, break him and bring him into something new, something great for God. It is the Christian’s prayer of confession and supplication all rolled into one, which is why, for a believer like me, this poem is oh so special.

Notice too that he uses reason in his poem as a tool, for change and for the better. “Reason,” he argues, is God’s “viceroy” in him, which should defend all things good. A viceroy is someone who runs a country on behalf of someone else and the country in question is Donne’s bruised and weary spirit. So the metaphor here is of the spirit, that he should really defend with regular, daily bible readings, moments of prayer; communing with God more, but he doesn’t, like so many of us, do it enough, so he feels as if he has to summon God to ask him to force him to his knees in fervent repentance [saying sorry for the things you have done wrong].

But his soul, his spirit, is “captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue” so he cannot control it. St. Paul, in the Bible, adds something to this, when he [and this is my paraphrase] says that there is a good that we should do but we do not do and a bad that we enter into that we should avoid. We have all been there; should I do this even though I know it is wrong? This is Donne’s dilemma and ours, so here is a man who is almost on his knees in fervent prayer, saying to God, “Come God, enter my heart and change me from within.” He is asking for the kind of change that he believes, at the time of writing, when Christian beliefs were more accepted than they are now, is permanent and lasting. As a Christian myself, I know how hard it is to keep to the track you feel is the right way in life. Sometimes, that track is narrow and I use the Robert Frost poem to describe my difficult walk, by saying that there are two paths and one is the one “less travelled by” and the other one not. I usually end up on the wrong one and get into bother. It seems Donne is the same.

This is what Donne is saying in this poem. He is stating the obvious, in a way, that we are all the same, that whatever we do, whether or not we know it is right or wrong, we do it and then we regret it.

He dearly loves the Lord his God. He says that plainly when he utters those words: “Yet dearly I love you and would be lov’d fain,” or loved back. But he also feels as if he is “betroth’d unto [God’s] enemy;” the Devil himself. When you think of the things that you do each day, those bad things, they tend to eat at you. This man clearly has a troubled conscience and he is unable to get rid of the fact that he is so bad, or at least, feels as if he is. So he is now asking God to “divorce” him from, or to “untie or break” the bonds that keep them apart from each other.

This is a love poem to God, from a penitent sinner. “Take me to you, imprison me,” he asks, imploring God to take him and do something with him to make him good once again. What he fails to realise at the time, is that biblically, if he has repented, which is what this poem is, then God has forgiven him, because that is what he does, always, but he cannot feel or believe that yet and that is something that at the time, the church would not let their believers feel with the relative ease of today.

The last two lines or so are, for me, extra special, as a believer myself. He says, “I, except you enthrall me, never shall be free” from the snares of the sinful mind. However he tries to turn away, he cannot break free. If only he can find a way, he is thinking, then he will break free from all this bad stuff in his life. He would even be “chaste,” which is an old word, or archaism, for being sexually inactive. But God, he asks, do something with me. “Ravish me,” even, he asks, which is a sexually provocative word in any age or era and one that brings images of love making to the mind of the reader. He wants the throes of passion that can be had in relationship with and in the presence of the holy God. He wants the passion of faith; real faith. He wants the passion in life, to enjoy life more. He wants what it says in John’s gospel, “life in all its abundance.” (John 10:10)

I wonder whether or not he was in a depressive state when he wrote this poem. As sonnets go, it is up there with Sonnet 18 and Rossetti’s’ lovely poems of love and for a believer, it is the best leveled prayer to God to change a person from within that has ever been written, which is why I love this poem so much.

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Different Places, Different Anagrams

For those who have been following this site for some time now, they will be used to being in school or college and having to use something called a PEE chain. For those who are used to this website and know it well, they will be used to PEED, where I argue that to get the higher grades, you need to add a more Developed idea after your explanation.

In other words, you link ideas from your life experience.

Thus, if the poem is about a break-up of a relationship and you have experience of that, as I do, you add in after the PEE bits, how there is usually pain involved in such a relationship ending. It makes your simple PEE chain into something far more detailed and developed and worthy of the higher grades.

Likewise, when students are taught another way to do this, it can get confusing, so here we are again to let you know that you need not worry when this happens. I use an example today given to me by a student of the law, who is in his Foundation year, the year before his degree begins.

He gave me this…

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Identify, Analyse, Evaluate.

Now that sounds all too strange, to me, when I am used to PEED, but it is not meant to be confusing. Let’s have a look and see that there is little difference between this and my way of teaching this, how the two can be merged and how you, as a student, can also use either method for writing your essays.

Firstly, Identify means simply that the student using this method for writing has to find something in a piece of literature, or an extract in a Language exam. So, let’s say you are given Sonnet 18 as an unseen poem and you see the words, “the eye of heaven shines….” You have to ask what you can identify in that line. The answer is a metaphor, because “the eye of heaven” refers to the sun, but in a poetic, rather impressive [some would say ‘posh’] way.

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So, you begin writing your usual PEE chain, as follows.

The poet is making a point about his love [point] by saying that “the eye of heaven shines,” [evidence] which signifies how beautiful he thinks the love of his life is, comparing her to the beauty and glory of the sun [explain] …

Then, you add the Development bit, by adding to your thought and using something from your life, so you can get this… [I have removed the brackets to show the final effect]

The poet is making a point about his love by saying that “the eye of heaven shines,” which signifies how beautiful he thinks the love of his life is, comparing her to the beauty and glory of the sun which suggests that this is a newly found love. Such love and infatuation is often short lived so it may be that the poet is feeling the pangs of sudden infatuation rather than love itself. 

Can you see what I mean? There is a lot more detail there, even though there is only one comment made in the Development section. I would add two or three comments where possible to add depth to my ideas.

Then, using the method of writing in the picture above, we see the word, “analyse.”

Analysis is all about the language used and the effect it has on the reader. In the example above, from Sonnet 18, there is the beginning of this, but this IAE example goes one step further by suggesting that you write about effects, in their plural sense. This is where phrases like these come into play…

This signifies that,             This implies that,               Such a suggestion means…

When you get to the Development angle in the writing technique, the idea is to say that this means one thing but could also mean something else. If you have three ideas roaming around in your head, then you need to share them, especially in the exam, especially where you are analysing something. You simply need to get every idea down that you can.

Lastly, you see the word, evaluate, which means you can here add in alternative readings of something. For example, for centuries, people who write about literature have thought that Shakespeare was writing Sonnet 18 for a woman, like in the film, Shakespeare In Love, starring Joseph Fiennes, where he creates the poem for Lady Viola de Lessups, his new found muse [the woman he now fancies].

But more modern writers have changed their ways of thinking in this area and have suggested that there is no gender in the poem, so it could equally have been written to a man, either one that he loved, which means he would have been homosexual, or to another writer and poet, perhaps even one by the name of Marlowe. If this is the truth, then his writings can be seen in more than one way, to reflect a love that would no doubt have put him in prison in those days.

So, there you have it.

If in school, you are taught PEE, then add some Development ideas in there. Add detail to your writing. If you do so, especially in the examinations, then you will be able to guarantee one thing; you will never be sat in an exam again, with twenty minutes left, having nothing to do but sit there, twiddling your thumbs. You will improve your scores from an E to a C, or a 2 to a 5, and if you are there already, from a C, or a 5, to a 7 or 8, or a B or A grade.

If that is what you want to happen, this is the suggestion for today.

So, grab a poem from somewhere right this minute, that you have to write about and have a go using IAE, or PEED. The result will be the same.

Enjoy!

RJ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Section B – Exam Task AQA

In the 2017 examination for paper 1 from AQA, there were two tasks. The first one gave a picture of two people on a bus. Task A was to write a descriptive piece about them using the picture.

The second task, Task B, asked students to write a story about two very different people.

Which one did you do? Which would you do if these were your choices? I would go for the description every time because I can use everything in the picture to help me, but many students, even those who are better at analysis than description, go for the second task.

Why is this an error?

The reason that is a mistake, in my humble opinion, is that unless you know the rules regarding storytelling, you will mess it up somehow. The picture that follows is an example of a plan for any story in any exam.

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When you write a story, do so following this drawing.

Describe the characters first, then place them somewhere, in a setting, add some form of conflict, get the action to rise, or increase, like a sense of danger and then, run that to a climax. Finally, resolve the panic in the story with an ending that basically tells what the moral of the story is. Then you have a decent plan for a story.

For those who love logic, this is logic based; A+B=C etc.

What follows is a short story attempt, that took two one hour sessions to complete at home with an English tutor in situe. See if you can follow it and see how she has used, more or less, the plan in the picture.  She has subverted it ever so slightly.

***

Charles was a thirty-five-year-old, middle class, well-spoken, self-employed engineer who earned £35,000 a year, who had a wife, two children and an extremely expensive Audi. He was such a caring, honest man who was always happy to help and remained calm at all times because he was always one step ahead of everyone else. He was polite, well educated as he left High School with 11 qualifications and had gained a Master’s Degree in Business and Engineering.
   “I’m really excited for our experience on the high ropes” thought Charles. “I have been looking forward to today for weeks!”
   He heard a man near him shouting and being very rude to others, so swiftly turned around to see what all the commotion was about. This was Bob causing a scene with the others.
   “Are we actually going to get on these high ropes or are we all just standing here staring at them?” yelled Bob to the people surrounding him.
   He was a thirty-four-year-old, working class, single man who worked as a bin man who earned £11,000 a year because he only worked part time. The rest of the time he was getting into trouble. He could barely afford a house, had a very basic, rusty old Ford Focus. He was a rude man who was constantly shouting at people and was always getting into trouble with the police as he would say what was on his mind to people without thinking. He left High School with no qualifications, so only had training to be able to be a refuse collector. He did not go to University, so was much less educated than most of the people who were at the High Ropes Adventure Park with him.
   The problem that Bob always had was that he felt he was better than everyone else. He was a lot more confident than others and would always be the first to do things without thinking.
   They both quickly approached the rickety, old swing bridge, with Bob feeling confident that he would cross with ease. However, Charles was feeling anxious and was not so confident in himself. As they stepped out, onto the bridge and began to walk across, Charles started to feel very uneasy about the rickety bridge and decided to slow his pace down a little, whereas Bob was powering along the bridge in front, until he heard a snap!
   The sound came from one of the panels breaking underneath him!

   Charles noticed that something was wrong immediately as he saw Bob’s right leg fall through the panel. The image in front of him was a sight he was not expecting, with Bob’s right leg hanging and dangling like a pendulum on a clock. He rushed over to Bob and asked how he was.

   “Do I look okay to you? I think my leg is broken and I need your help to get me out!” exclaimed Bob.
   “Let me help you,” enquired Charles, hoping that he could be of any use.
   Bob was wriggling and struggling to get his hanging leg out from the hole he had created, shouting and screaming at people as they weren’t helping him at all and that they were not being quick enough in make the decision of what they should do. He soon realised that Charles was the only person nearby who looked as if they had an idea of what to do, so looked up at Charles with a sense of hope in his eyes and sarcasm in his voice.
   “Is there any chance Charles, that you are able to try and help pull me out of this hole?”
“Yes of course, I just have to get myself across to you first.”
   Showing the struggle on his face, Charles slowly but surely crossed the bridge to where Bob was hanging. He reached forward with his left hand to secure himself onto the rope at the side of the bridge. With his other hand, he knelt down and hooked his arm under Bob’s shoulder. He then slowly and safely began to stand up straight. As he did so he said something to Bob.
   “3…2…1” and then he lifted Bob out of the hole.
   Because of this incident, Bob began to realise that he should be more like Charles, because he would not offer to help anyone regardless of who they are. He noticed the calmness in Charles and wished he was more like him. The ironic part was that they both came from the same public secondary school and he began to realise that it just shows that if you put a bit of hard work and effort into what you love, you will go a long way, whereas, if you are not bothered about what you do and could not care less, then you will not get very far.

 

Well done that student.

RJ

How To Be Creative…

How To Be Creative – In One Easy Lesson

Imagine the scene.

You have been writing your way through Section A in the exam and are happy with your progress so far. You like reading an article and writing about it. You feel comfortable doing that because you have been taught how to do it well by your teacher in the classroom. He has done his job well, but when it comes to being creative, your heart freezes, the panic rises, the bile tastes in your mouth and you want to rush for the door.

If that is you, O Not Very Creative One, then panic not!

Panic-Attack

There is help here for you, if this is you and you find being creative hard to do.

It is not as hard as it sounds, if you think logically, which you have just been doing for an hour or so, on Section A of the exam. So how do you go from being analytical to being ultra creative? Well, the answer is in the fact that in Section A, you are asked to analyse someone’s creative writing, whether it be an article, an advertisement, or anything else.

Someone sat down at a computer and created it, after all.

Section B then, is your chance to show that you can not only write about something creative, but that you can do the same creative thing yourself.

Imagine once more for me, this task, taken from the AQA 2017 paper 1. It asked in Section B for you to look at a picture and write a description. That was the first choice. Most who took the exam opted to not do this task. I think they were wrong to not choose it, but that is just my thinking. Instead, they went for the more creative one, which asked them to write a story about two very different people, [which is what the picture for task 1 showed] or something like that.

Imagine that in front of you.

How do you plan for that in the few seconds you have before you get writing?

If it was me, I would split the page in two, on the first page of Section A, like this.

Steve

 

Michael

 

 

 

 

 

I would then add in some detail into each section of the chart, to build up the two opposing characters. Being the father of a son aged 26, who is about to take part in his first ever boxing bout, I might add some of that in as well, making it so that they are facing each other in the story. If I then add in some more ideas, I soon end up with something like this.  

 

Steve

 

 

Michael

 

Rough, tough, rugged, medium height and build but strong

24 with wiry ginger hair, curly

Working class background

No father figure

Angry, agitated and fast

Quick tempered

Like a volcano going off when angry

Troubled background

Not worked much

A bit of a loner

Has taken drugs before now

Can be dangerous when made angry

 

 

Calm, collected personality

Agile, tall and strong

26 with dark brown hair

Middle class background trying to be someone he isn’t

Steady on his feet but not very fast

Thoughtful and respectful

Not very easily angered

Middle class upbringing, Grammar school boy

Life and soul of the party and likes to drink

Everyone likes him

Before too long, after less than 5 minutes, I am left with a chart that details two very different characters and I can begin writing about them, sharing them with my reader, or in this case, marker. 

But there is a pattern to follow.

I would always start by describing place or person when writing a story. Do not go straight for speech. Let that come later. Choose your style of writing, whether in the first person, or in the third person and go for it.

This is the pattern to almost every single story ever written. You need to adopt it too. 

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The idea is you begin by describing the characters first. Steve comes first because he is the rougher of the two, so more easy to have fun using words to describe him, using things like similes to describe him, like saying he is as strong as an ox. Then the same for Michael. Likewise, it is easy to think of words for such as him. Once the characters have been fully described, you will have 250 words already and can then add in a setting, if you have not done so already, as well as speech, so this might be a charity boxing bout in aid of Cancer Research [this is what my son is doing now, so I use this here as an example because it is relevant – you do the same from something relevant to you on the day].

Once the setting has been described, you add in a piece of conflict, like a low punch, below the belt, hurting Steve. Michael might have not meant it but Steve does not know that and his anger burns for revenge. Once the conflict is set, it can be built upon. Maybe Michael does it again, this time on purpose? It goes unnoticed by the referee but not by Steve. As you continue the story, you have to get to a climax, whereby something happens that ends the bout, or puts a stop to it, so either a knockout, or a problem where neither wins. This then leads to the resolution of the story [could be a draw and they become firm friends] and a further description of the themes contained within is able to be expanded upon in your final paragraph, a little like stories used to end with and the moral of the story is…..

If you follow that style and that format, as well as planning it well, you end up with a story to dazzle the marker. So long as your spelling and punctuation is good, the grammar should fix itself because words like boxer, bout, gloves, round, referee, blow and knockout are normally used when referring to this event. That is called the good use of the correct Register. 

Now the task asks you to write about two very different people, so you have to make one as different to the next as you can. One is like a derailed train wreck of a man. The other is a skyscraper, tall and elegant. Your description of them both should make the differences so obvious.

Above all though, when you write it, do one thing and one thing only; SHOW OFF YOUR SKILLS.

Happy writing!