Christian Poetry- “Holy Sonnet XV” By John Donne

John Donne (1572-1631) was a Christian, a metaphysical poet, a soldier, and a scholar. He lived at about the same time as George Herbert another metaphysical poet. Below is one of his “Holy Sonnets.”

I used the older punctuation but the more modern spelling. I think this is a balance that’ll give us the older feeling while still being able to read it clearly.

Holy Sonnet XV
By John Donne

Wilt thou love God, as he thee? then digest,
My Soul, this wholesome meditation,
How God the Spirit, by Angels waited on
In heaven, doth make his Temple in thy breast.
The Father having begot a Son most blest,
And still begetting, (for he ne’er begun)
Hath deigned to choose thee by adoption,
Co-heir to’his glory, and Sabbath’s endless rest;
And as a robb’d man, which by search doth find
His stolen stuff sold, must lose or buy’it again:
The Son of glory came down, and was slain,
Us whom he’had made, and Satan stole, to unbind.
’Twas much, that man was made like God before,
But, that God should be made like man, much more.

Before going into a brief analysis of the poem, note that Donne uses a similar argument to the one that Tom Cantor used in “ How a Jew Learned the True Meaning of Christmas”. (Or maybe that’s vice versa, as Donne lived 400 years ago!)

Tom used and extended parable about a boy and the toy ship he made, lost, found, and bought. Donne wrote ,

“And as a robb’d man, which by search doth find
His stolen stuff sold, must lose or buy’it again:”

This poem is an Italian/Petrarchan sonnet. Briefly, the English sonnet has 12 lines and then a 2 line couplet that sums them up or gives them a twist. The Italian sonnet has 8 lines and then a 6 line conclusion. The English sonnet is structured for cleverness; the Italian or Petrarchan sonnet for a more extended conclusion. The structure of the Italian sonnet does allow for a couple of at the end, too, and Donne takes advantage of this. In the first 8 lines he expresses his wonder at the Spirit of God dwelling in the believer (lines 1-4) and being chosen with the Father and Son for adoption (lines 5-8). At line 9 he turns to the wonder of redemption summing it up with the couplet,

“’Twas much, that man was made like God before,
But, that God should be made like man, much more.”

But the poem itself is the thing. I think it’s best to read it, then analyze it, and then read it again more deeply. And this poem could also be analyzed for its meter, line length, rhyme scheme, use of imagery, etc.  Each analysis can lead to a more enjoyable and deeper reading of the poem.