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January 27, 2012

Holy Sonnets #1 by John Donne- Analysis

Holy Sonnets #1 by John Donne- Analysis

As a child, John Donne was persecuted for being a Catholic in a country that was predominately Protestant. He was distantly related to Sir Thomas Moore, who was a "great Catholic humanist and martyr" (1260). Donne's religious affiliation prevented him from having any sort of public career, and he was not even allowed to get a degree from a university. Donne decided to go abroad, during which time he studied theology. When Donne returned to London sometime in the 1590s, he converted to the English church. King James wanted Donne to take an ecclesiastical career, and in 1615 Donne was ordained in the Church of England. Donne's sermons were just as clever and bold as his previous poems, which allowed him to establish a very distinguished career for himself. Donne's poems began to reflect his increasingly "anxious contemplation of his own mortality" (1261). In Donne's Holy Sonnets #1, he is speaking directly to God, asking God to hurry up and fix him before the devil takes hold of his soul.

The rhyme scheme of this poem is ABBA ABBA CDCD EE, which is the English sonnet. It consists of three quatrains and one rhyming couplet at the end.

The narrator is asking God if He is just going to let His work go to waste. He demands that God fix him quickly, because death is upon him. He is scared that God will not absolve his sins before he dies, and he will then not be able to enter into heaven. In line four, he is describing the moment where your life flashes before your eyes when you are sure that you are going to die.

He does not want to move his eyes away from God, because he is scared that the devil will take that opportunity to damn him to an eternity in hell. The sins that he has amounted during the course of his life scares him just as much as his impending death; if he is found unworthy of God's love, he will have to suffer the consequences. His sins are rotting away his flesh, and they are so heavy that he believes he is slowing sinking into hell.

God is the only one who matters now; his last judgment will decide whether the narrator has done enough to get into heaven. It is by God's grace that he will rise up into heaven; so he will look up to heaven in hopes that he will soon be going there. The devil is still there trying to tempt the narrator, and if God doesn't take him soon then his soul will be going with the devil.

These last two lines are the sonnets rhyming couplet, which serve to sum up the entire poem. He tells God that His grace will give him the wings to escape the clutches of the devil. The last line is an analogy: God is like a giant magnet that attracts the narrator's iron heart.


"John Donne." The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Sixteenth Century/ The Early Seventeenth Century. 8th ed. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: Norton, 2006. 1060-1.

Donne, John. "Holy Sonnets #1." The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Sixteenth Century/ The Early Seventeenth Century. 8th ed. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: Norton, 2006. 1295.