The speaker, who is commonly considered to be Donne himself, is talking to God about his soul and his future. He’s lived a sinful life and knows his mistakes have led him to Satan. Now, in ‘Holy Sonnet II,’ he’s seeking a path away from the sin he’s been so focused on.
Holy Sonnet II John DonneAs due by many titles I resignMyself to thee, O God. First I was madeBy Thee; and for Thee, and when I was decay’dThy blood bought that, the which before was Thine.I am Thy son, made with Thyself to shine,Thy servant, whose pains Thou hast still repaid,Thy sheep, Thine image, and—till I betray’dMyself—a temple of Thy Spirit divine.Why doth the devil then usurp on me?Why doth he steal, nay ravish, that’s Thy right?Except Thou rise and for Thine own work fight,O! I shall soon despair, when I shall seeThat Thou lovest mankind well, yet wilt not choose me,And Satan hates me, yet is loth to lose me.
Explore Holy Sonnet II
‘Holy Sonnet II’ by John Donne describes one speaker’s concern that he won’t be able to return to God’s good graces.
In the first lines of the poem, the speaker begins by describing how devoted he is to God and describing how he feels that God made him in his image. The speaker is dedicated to God, but he’s lived a sinful life. This is something he’s well aware of and which he’s trying to atone for. But, he worries that he doesn’t have enough time to escape Satan’s grasp.
The main theme of this poem is sin. It is coupled with the speaker’s need to repent. He’s a faithful person, something that becomes clear in the first few lines. But, he’s lived a sinful life. He’s done a great deal that he’s now ashamed of. But, he’s having trouble removing himself from Satan’s grasp. He’s concerned that, with the limited time he has left on Earth, he won’t be able to atone for everything he’s done and return to God.
Structure and Form
‘Holy Sonnet II’ by John Donne is a fourteen-line poem that follows a rhyme scheme of ABBABBACDDCCC. This slightly unusual rhyme scheme uses the traditional pattern of a Petrarchan sonnet in the first eight lines and an interesting variation in the final six lines. The poet also chose to structure this poem in iambic pentameter. This means that the lines contain five sets of two beats the first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed. This is the common metrical pattern used in sonnets.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Caesura: a pause in the middle of a line of verse because of the poet’s use of punctuation or a natural pause in the meter. For example, “Thy sheep, Thine image, and—till I betray’d.”
- Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “blood bought” and “doth” and “devil.”
- Enjambment: a transition between two lines that does not use end-punctation and leaves a phrase incomplete. For example, the transition between lines one and two as well as lines twelve and thirteen.
- Allusion: a reference to something not explained within the text of a poem. For example, this poem is filled with religious references seen through the poet’s address to God.
As due by many titles I resign
Myself to thee, O God. First I was made
By Thee; and for Thee, and when I was decay’d
Thy blood bought that, the which before was Thine.
In the first lines of ‘Holy Sonnet II,’ the poet’s speaker begins the poem by addressing God. He tells God that he wants to give himself over entirely. His mind and body are both dedicated to God’s will. He was made for God, and by God, he adds.
I am Thy son, made with Thyself to shine,
Thy servant, whose pains Thou hast still repaid,
Thy sheep, Thine image, and—till I betray’d
Myself—a temple of Thy Spirit divine.
In the second quatrain, the speaker provides readers with more images that help create a full understanding of how the speaker sees his relationship with God. He is a child of God, as are all human beings. He is made from God and therefore contains within him some of the shining divinity that God is defined by.
He’s also God’s servant, he says. But, he’s sinned in his life and betrayed himself, which he called “a temple of Thy Spirit divine.” Until he sinned, he was a perfect embodiment of God.
Why doth the devil then usurp on me?
Why doth he steal, nay ravish, that’s Thy right?
Except Thou rise and for Thine own work fight,
O! I shall soon despair, when I shall see
That Thou lovest mankind well, yet wilt not choose me,
And Satan hates me, yet is loth to lose me.
In the next few lines, the speaker asks two rhetorical questions. He suggests that the devil has come into his life and removed from his soul the perfect goodness that God imbued him with. His shining divine soul has been corrupted and “ravish[ed]” by the devil.
The speaker worries that unless his better side reveals itself, or the parts of himself that are still good and Godly, he’ll completely stray from the correct path.
The poem concludes with the speaker saying that he’s worried or is soon to despair if he can’t atone for his past sins. He’ll despair if he’s not reunited with God, he adds, despite the fact that he knows God loves humankind.
The last line says Satan hates him but is unwilling to release the speaker from his grasp.
The meaning is that one should atone for their sins while they’re still able and before the devil takes them over entirely. The speaker feels as though he’s lived so long in sin that it may not be possible for him to return to a Godly life.
The poem is about one speaker’s sinful life and how he knows that the good, Godly parts of himself are still inside him. He just can’t reach in and reactivate the divine soul that God imbued him with.
Donne wrote this poem in order to explore a particular concern that he may have contended with in his life regarding faith, sin, and repentance. His speaker worries that he’ll never truly be able to atone for his sins.
Readers who enjoyed this should also consider reading some other John Donne poems. For example:
- ‘A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy’s Day’ – is one of the poet’s best poems about love and loss. It depicts the speaker’s grief after the death of someone he loved.
- ‘Death, be not Proud’ – tells the listener not to fear Death as he keeps morally corrupt company and only leads to Heaven.
- ‘A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning‘ – uses one of his famous conceits to depict the steadfast nature of his love.