You Enthrall Me

John Donne (1572 – 1631)

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

By John Donne

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.



Several poets have used the sonnet form to write testaments to their God. Of all of them I consider John Donne to be the best. His poetry is abruptly visual and passionate.  It is love poetry in a religious context.  But what it makes it even more remarkable, or makes it easier to understand is how heretical it was when it was written. That John Donne is remembered as a great Elizabethan poet, rather than a Catholic martyr, is either a consequence of the wealth and influence of his family or the appreciation of his talent.

Donne was born, in 1572, into a wealthy Catholic family in England. His mother was related to the martyr Sir Thomas More, and her brother, Donne’s uncle Jasper Heywood, was the head of the Jesuit mission in England. These were dangerous years to be a Catholic  in England, a period of extreme persecution. Queen Elizabeth had proclaimed it high treason for a Catholic priest to be found anywhere in the realm. Catholic priests who were captured were brutally executed in a way to create fear and control by the Church of England. The punishment for Catholic martyrs was to be hanged, then taken down while still alive but incapacitated, their genitals cut off and their bowels torn out.

In 1583 Jasper Heywood was captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Donne’s mother visited him.  In an attempt to assist him in preparing a defense, she smuggled a fellow Jesuit, William Weston, into the Tower in disguise, taking along her twelve-year-old son as part of the plan, hoping that a child would ally the guards’ suspicions a Jesuit priest was entering.

As a teenager Donne attended Oxford. However completing a university degree was unthinkable, because it would involve renouncing Catholicism and proclaiming the Church of England’s articles of faith.  Donne left Oxford before graduating and traveled abroad. In 1592 he returned and attended Lincoln’s Inn—a law college and finishing school for prosperous young men. A portrait painted at this time shows him wearing crucifix-shaped earrings, an insult to Protestants, and the painting bears a Spanish motto, Antes muerto que mudado (Sooner dead than changed)—a defiant assertion of his faith, the language as provocative as his poetry was later to be.

Donne’s poetry does not arise from an imagined peril, but instead was based on very real threats. In May 1593 his brother, Henry, one year younger, was arrested for sheltering a young Catholic priest, William Harrington. Harrington was condemned and executed as described. Henry, was found guilty of a felony for harboring a known Catholic priest, but escaped the same fate.

It is remarkable to consider how dangerous words can be.  The enduring fame of Donne and enjoyment of his poetry is due in my mind to the vivid imagery and religious zeal. His poetry shares his faith, defiance, devotion and courage through his art. And no one, not even on pain of death, was going to take his faith from him.

Holy Sonnets: I am a little world made cunningly

by John Donne

I am a little world made cunningly
Of elements and an angelic sprite,
But black sin hath betray’d to endless night
My world’s both parts, and oh both parts must die.
You which beyond that heaven which was most high
Have found new spheres, and of new lands can write,
Pour new seas in mine eyes, that so I might
Drown my world with my weeping earnestly,
Or wash it, if it must be drown’d no more.
But oh it must be burnt; alas the fire
Of lust and envy have burnt it heretofore,
And made it fouler; let their flames retire,
And burn me O Lord, with a fiery zeal
Of thee and thy house, which doth in eating heal

Forever in Felicity



Most Glorious Lord of Life

By Edmund Spenser

Most glorious Lord of life, that on this day
Didst make thy triumph over death and sin,
And having harrowed hell, didst bring away
Captivity thence captive, us to win:
This joyous day, dear Lord, with joy begin,
And grant that we, for whom thou diddest die,
Being with thy dear blood clean washed from sin,
May live forever in felicity:
And that thy love we weighing worthily,
May likewise love thee for the same again;
And for thy sake, that all like dear didst buy,
May love with one another entertain.
So let us love, dear love, like as we ought,
Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.


Holy Sonnets: Death Be Not Proud

by John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Be Justly Proud and Gladly Safe

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Poinsettia in need of a drink.


“When people get married because they think it’s a long-time love affair, they’ll be divorced very soon, because all love affairs end in disappointment.  But marriage is a recognition of a spirtual identify.”

Joseph Campbell

The Blossom

by John Donne

LITTLE think’st thou, poor flower,
Whom I’ve watch’d six or seven days,
And seen thy birth, and seen what every hour
Gave to thy growth, thee to this height to raise,
And now dost laugh and triumph on this bough,
Little think’st thou,
That it will freeze anon, and that I shall
To-morrow find thee fallen, or not at all.

Little think’st thou, poor heart,
That labourest yet to nestle thee,
And think’st by hovering here to get a part
In a forbidden or forbidding tree,
And hopest her stiffness by long siege to bow,
Little think’st thou
That thou to-morrow, ere the sun doth wake,
Must with the sun and me a journey take.

But thou, which lovest to be
Subtle to plague thyself, wilt say,
Alas ! if you must go, what’s that to me?
Here lies my business, and here I will stay
You go to friends, whose love and means present
Various content
To your eyes, ears, and taste, and every part ;
If then your body go, what need your heart?

Well then, stay here ; but know,
When thou hast stay’d and done thy most,
A naked thinking heart, that makes no show,
Is to a woman but a kind of ghost.
How shall she know my heart ; or having none,
Know thee for one?
Practice may make her know some other part ;
But take my word, she doth not know a heart.

Meet me in London, then,
Twenty days hence, and thou shalt see
Me fresher and more fat, by being with men,
Than if I had stay’d still with her and thee.
For God’s sake, if you can, be you so too ;
I will give you
There to another friend, whom we shall find
As glad to have my body as my mind.

I am at that stage in my relationship with my Poinsettia every year from Christmas, where I inevitably go a little too long on watering it and it starts to wilt.  Poinsettia’s are like every other relationship, over water it and it gets damp feet and dies from a smothering mold.  Under water it and it will hit the critical wilting point, which by definition is the stage at which no amount of watering will bring it back from the brink of death, because cells have been damaged beyond repair, the essence of the plant is gone even if a little green remains.  Fortunately, I caught mine in time that it perked right up and looked happy by the end of the day, giving me a bright red smile knowing I was thinking about it.

However, I have learned over the years, that let it get to that early wilty point a couple of times and things will go down hill quick. The plant will come back vegetatively but the shine is off the bloom. Consistent, even though it be unintentional, lack of attention to watering, going just a wee bit too long of not being present with your poinsettia, will cause it to drop its top red leaves, scale back and try to hold on with buds at the bottom.

My father has poinsettias that are many years old, so careful is his watering and care for them.  He has an ivy plant that is over 60 years old and several others over 30 years old. My sister called and we chatted about her approach with poinsettias. She lives in Oakland, CA and said that she throws her out in the backyard by the steps early in the new year and let’s it go feral, free to try and make it on there own.  She said some don’t have the stamina and die and others make it to spring and she plants them in her garden, survival of the fittest with a minimalist approach to care and nurturing.  What’s your approach to house plants? Does it mirror your approach to your romantic relationships?

I found these two poems by John Donne recently and instantly knew how I wanted to share them.  Each is a remarkable poem, though the old English makes it a little more difficult to wade through.  A Jet Ring Sent shows that marriage and separation are no different now than 400 years ago, in partnerships wedded in love.  I read the ending, not as divorce but commitment, paraphrasing;  “Circle this finger’s top, with your thumb.” What a simple beautiful way to acknowledge your wedding with your lover and the contentment of seeing a physical reminder of those vows on each other’s fingers. I read the poem as an affirmation of being attentive to your most important relationship. “Be justly proud and gladly safe, thou that dost dwell with me.”  When both partners affirm that sentiment getting up from bed every morning and having a cup of tea together, you know you are in it for the long haul.

John Donne wrote some of the most beautiful religious sonnets of the past 500 years. A true man of God, who did not forsake his flesh, or his family, but lived well on this earthly plain as well.

A Jet Ring Sent

by John Donne

THOU art not so black as my heart,
Nor half so brittle as her heart, thou art;
What wouldst thou say? shall bout our properties be thee be spoke,
—Nothing more endless, nothing sooner broke.

Marriage rings are not of this stuff,
Oh, why should ought less precious, or less tough,
Figure our loves? except in thy name though has bid it say,
“–I’m cheap, and nought but fashion; fling me away.”

Yet stay with me, since thou art come,
Circle this finger’s top, which didst her thumb,
Be justly proud, and gladly safe, that thou dost dwell with me.
She that O! broke her faith, would soon break free.