Batter my heart the (meta)physical poets - Jerry W. Brown

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Batter my heart the (meta)physical poets - Jerry W. Brown

    “Batter my heart”: the (meta)physical poets

    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, 5

    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; 10

    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.

    Doctor Atomic

    At the northern end of the White Sands Missile Range, in the semi-arid desert of central New Mexico, a road stretches toward the charcoal-colored rockface of the Oscura Mountains, which rise to nearly nine thousand feet. At the end of the road is a neat circular shape, about a half mile in diameter. This is the site of the first atomic explosion, which took place on July 16, 1945. When the bomb went off, it obliterated the creosote bushes that had been growing here, along with every other living thing inside the circle. When plant life returned to the spot, grass and yucca plants took the place of the creosote. The change in vegetation explains why the site is visible from miles away, and probably from space.

    White Sands is a mesmerizing placean outdoor museum of mankinds highest ambitions and

    deepest fears. The missile range is still an active facility. Lately, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency has been using an area nearby to study the effects of explosives on underground bunkers. One corner of White Sands is occupied by LINEAR, the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research project, which scans the skies for errant asteroids, particularly those big enough to cause mass extinctions. At the same time, the range functions as an unofficial wildlife refuge, the secrecy of the place serving to protect various species. It is home to herds of oryx, an African antelope. They are noble animals with horns like medieval spikes, and they can go for extended periods without water.


    “Batter my heart”: the (meta)physical poets

    J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man who oversaw the building of the first atomic bombs, called the test site Trinity, in honor of John Donnes sonnet Batter my heart, three-persond God. The

    poem contains the words break, blow, burn, and make me new. Oppenheimer was made new

    by the explosion, or, at least, was not the same afterward. The terrain beneath the bomb

    Ground Zero, it was calledalso underwent a transformation, which scientists are still trying to understand. When Trinity personnel came back to inspect the site, they found a green, glassy substance covering the ground. The latest hypothesis is that this artificial mineral, which was named trinitite, formed when soil, water, and organic matter were lifted off the ground and fused in the heat of the blast. Over the years, tourists have carried away much of the trinitite in their pocketsthe site is open to visitors twice a yearand most of the rest was buried

    beneath the soil. Looking down at the ground, you would never know that anything out of the ordinary had happened here.

    What happened at Trinity is the subject of Doctor Atomic, a new opera, with music by John

    Adams and a libretto by Peter Sellars. The opening scenes take place at Los Alamos, the headquarters of the Manhattan Project, two weeks before the test. The rest takes place on the night of July 15th-16th, in the hours leading up to the detonation. It had its première at the San Francisco Opera on October 1, 2005.

    Additional information about the aria “Batter my heart”.

The crux of the opera arrives: Oppenheimer, alone at the bottom of the tower, sings “Batter my

    heart, three person’d God.” The most telling lines may be the last: “for I / Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, / Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.” The aria is in the key of D minor, in the manner of a Renaissance lament, with a hint of synagogue chant; Oppenheimer sings a grand, doleful, nobly stammering melody, while the orchestra mimics the sound of viols and lutes.

    “That music just sort of fluttered down and landed on my desk one day,” Adams told me. “Part of me said, ‘No, you can’t do that,’ and the other half said, ‘That’s it, go ahead and do it.’ Afterward, I realized the reason it was right. Naming the site after a John Donne sonnet was itself an archaic gesture. Oppenheimer was always referring back to ancient things, summing up his state through very dignified forms.”

    The Flea

    by John Donne

MARK but this flea, and mark in this,

    How little that which thou deniest me is ;

    It suck'd me first, and now sucks thee,

    And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.

    Thou know'st that this cannot be said 5

    A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead ;


    “Batter my heart”: the (meta)physical poets

     Yet this enjoys before it woo,

     And pamper'd swells with one blood made of two ;

     And this, alas ! is more than we would do.

    O stay, three lives in one flea spare, 10 Where we almost, yea, more than married are. This flea is you and I, and this

    Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is. Though parents grudge, and you, we're met, And cloister'd in these living walls of jet. 15

     Though use make you apt to kill me,

     Let not to that self-murder added be,

     And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since

    Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence? 20 Wherein could this flea guilty be,

    Except in that drop which it suck'd from thee? Yet thou triumph'st, and say'st that thou Find'st not thyself nor me the weaker now. 'Tis true ; then learn how false fears be ; 25 Just so much honour, when thou yield'st to me, Will waste, as this flea's death took life from thee.

Read through the entire poem once, without making any comments.

    Now, read the first stanza

    ; What is the meaning of “Mark(e) but this flea, and mark(e) in this,…”? Why the use of

    such direct address?

    ; What is the “this”?

    ; Why is it significant that the two people’s blood is joined in the flea?

    ; What is meant by “Thou knowest that this cannot be said/A sin, nor shame, nor loss of


    ; Define “maidenhead”.

    ; What is meant by the repetition of “this” in the first stanza?

    ; What is the religious imagery in this stanza?

    ; What is the rhyme scheme of the first stanza?

    ; What do you think the first stanza is about (literal then metaphorical)?

    Read the second stanza


    “Batter my heart”: the (meta)physical poets

    ; Visualize the speaker talking to the other person. Where does flea fit in?

    ; What is about to happen that causes the speaker to say “Oh, stay, three lives in one flea


    ; Whose lives are in the flea?

    ; What is the religious imagery in this stanza?

    ; What is the definition of “jet”, of “grudge”, and of “cloistered”?

    ; What does the speaker mean when stating “Though use make you apt to kill me…”

    ; What is the rhyme scheme of the second stanza?

    ; What do you think the second stanza is about (literal then metaphorical)?

    ; How does the speaker’s argument change from the first to the second stanza?

    Do the third stanza on your own

    General Questions:

    ; What appears to be the relationship between the speaker and who he/she is speaking


    ; What is the attitude/tone of the speaker?

    ; What issue or problem is the speaker trying to address?

    ; How does consistent rhyme scheme add to the speaker’s argument.

    ; How does the speaker’s argument “move” through the poem?

    ; If time, write a personal response to the poem explaining what the poem is about and

    why you think that.

    “In a metaphysical poem the conceits are instruments of definition in an argument or instruments to persuade. The poem has something to say which the conceit explicates or something to urge which the conceit helps to forward.” (Helen Gardner, “Introduction to The Metaphysical Poets, 1957).

    One of the stock devices used by a poet is imagery. Images which are just and natural are employed by all the poets; conceits, however, are unusual and fantastic similes. Comparisons indicate similarity in dissimilar objects, but conceits emphasise the degree of heterogeneity

    the strong element of unlikeness and the violence or strain used in bringing together dissimilar objects. There is more of the incongruity rather than the similarity in a conceit. Comparing the cheeks of the beloved to a rose is an image, while comparing the cheeks of the lover to a rose because they have lost their colour and are bleeding from thorns, (and the consequent gloom) is a conceit.

    Donne’s conceits are metaphysical because they are taken from the extended world of knowledge, from science, astrology, astronomy, scholastic philosophy, fine arts, etc. They are scholarly and learned conceits and much too far-fetched and obscure. Moreover, they are 4

    “Batter my heart”: the (meta)physical poets

    elaborate. The well-known conceit of the two lovers being compared to a pair of compasses,

    where one leg remains fixed at the centre and the other rotates is an elaborate and extended

    conceit. Similarly, the comparison of the flea to a bridal bed or a marriage temple is another

    example of an elaborate conceit.

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning (1611)

     As virtuous men pass mildly' away,

     And whisper to their souls to go,

     Whilst some of their sad friends do say

     The breath goes now, and some say, no; 5 So let us melt, and make no noise,

     No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move,

     'Twere profanation of our joys

     To tell the laity our love.

     Moving of the earth brings harms and fears, 10 Men reckon what it did and meant;

     But trepidation of the spheres,

     Though greater far, is innocent.

     Dull sublunary lovers' love

     (Whose soul is sense) cannot admit 15 Absence, because it doth remove

     Those things which elemented it.

     But we by a love so much refined

     That our selves know not what it is,

     Inter-assured of the mind,

    20 Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

     Our two souls therefore, which are one,

     Though I must go, endure not yet

     A breach, but an expansion,

     Like gold to airy thinness beat. 25 If they be two, they are two so

     As stiff twin compasses are two; 5

    “Batter my heart”: the (meta)physical poets

     Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show

     To move, but doth, if the other do.

     And though it in the center sit,

    30 Yet when the other far doth roam,

     It leans and hearkens after it,

     And grows erect, as that comes home.

     Such wilt thou be to me, who must

     Like the other foot, obliquely run; 35 Thy firmness makes my circle just,

     And makes me end where I begun.

    Death, be not proud (Holy Sonnet 10)

    by John Donne

    Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou are 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. A HYMN TO GOD THE FATHER.

    by John Donne

    Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,

     Which was my sin, though it were done before? Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,

     And do run still, though still I do deplore?

     When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,

     For I have more.


    “Batter my heart”: the (meta)physical poets


    Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won

     Others to sin, and made my sin their door?

    Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun

     A year or two, but wallowed in a score?

     When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,

     For I have more.


    I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun

     My last thread, I shall perish on the shore ;

    But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son

     Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore ;

     And having done that, Thou hast done ;

     I fear no more.

Ancient Greek and Roman thinkers and physicians theorized that physical and mental disorders

    were the result of an imbalance in one of the four humours. An excess of any of the four was

    thought to correspond a certain temperament in the patient. A large quantity of blood made

    the patient sanguine or cheerful, perhaps with too much energy. Too much phlegm (viscous liquid, mucous) made him or her phlegmatic, or cool and apathetic. An excess of black bile, also called spleen or melancholy and thought to be excreted by the spleen, would make a person

    melancholic or depressive. Finally, too much yellow bile, or choler, made for a choleric or easily

    angered temperament.

    wet dry

     hot air/blood sanguine, cheerful fire/yellow bile choleric, angry

    cold water/phlegm phlegmatic, sluggish earth/black bile melancholy, sad

The Collar from The Temple (1633)

    by George Herbert

    1 I struck the board, and cried, “No more:

     I will abroad!

     What? shall I ever sigh and pine?

     My lines and life are free, free as the road,

     Loose as the wind, as large as store. 5

    2 Shall I be still in suit?

     Have I no harvest but a thorn

     To let me blood, and not restore

    3What I have lost with cordial fruit?


    “Batter my heart”: the (meta)physical poets

     Sure there was wine 10

     Before my sighs did dry it: there was corn

     Before my tears did drown it.

     Is the year only lost to me?

    4 Have I no bays to crown it,

    No flowers, no garlands gay? all blasted? 15

     All wasted?

     Not so, my heart; but there is fruit,

     And thou hast hands.

     Recover all thy sigh-blown age

    On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute 20

    Of what is fit, and not. Forsake thy cage,

    5 Thy rope of sands,

    Which petty thoughts have made, and made to thee

     Good cable, to enforce and draw,

     And be thy law, 25

     While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.

     Away! take heed;

     I will abroad.

    6Call in thy death’s-head there; tie up thy fears.

     He that forbears 30

     To suit and serve his need,

     Deserves his load.”

    But as I raved and grew more fierce and wild

     At every word,

    Methought I heard one calling, “Child!” 35

     And I replied, “My Lord.”


    1Table 2In attendance, waiting on someone for a favor 3Giving heart’s ease. Restorative 4The poet’s wreath 5Illusory constraints 6The skull, a reminder of death.


    “Batter my heart”: the (meta)physical poets

    The Collar

    by George Herbert DIRECTIONS: Respond to the following statements and/or questions with the BEST answer among those


    1. The poem as a whole dramatizes

     a. a strained love affair

     b. the restraint of political freedom

     c. religious rebellion and reconciliation

     d. the stain of economic loss

     e. lack of parental understanding 2. It can be inferred that when the speaker says “No more” (line 1), he is turning away from

     a. self-discipline and sacrifice

     b. concern for other men’s opinions

     c. devotion to home and family

     d. patriotic loyalty

     e. childish fantasies

    3. The speaker’s statements within the quotation marks (lines 1-32) are addressed to

     a. an aging friend

     b. his parent

     c. his loved one

     d. the Lord

     e. himself

    4. In context, the phrase “as large as store” (line 5) is best interpreted to mean as

     a. full as abundance itself

     b. expensive as a treasure

     c. burdensome as can be imagined

     d. majestic as a mountain

     e. precious as a pleasant memory 5. The imagery in the phrase “no harvest but a thorn” (line 7) is especially appropriate because it

     a. relates to the harsh side of a farmer’s life

     b. has spiritual as well as physical associations

     c. stresses the difference between the way a man views himself and the way others view him

     d. emphasizes the harvest time or autumn of one’s life

     e. suggests the transcendence of man in nature


    “Batter my heart”: the (meta)physical poets

    6. The tone of the speaker’s questions in lines 3-16 is primarily one of

     a. enthusiasm

     b. timidity

     c. haughtiness

     d. inquisitiveness

     e. bitterness

    7. In the context of the poem, “bays,” “flowers,” and “garlands gay” (lines 14-15) imply

     a. youthfulness

     b. freedom from imprisonment

     c. secular pleasures

     d. the beauties of nature

     e. memories of the past

    8. The change in tone from lines 1-16 to lines 17-32 can best be described as a change from

     a. restraint to freedom

     b. querying to assertion

     c. assertion to denial

     d. freedom to entrapment

     e. grief to joy

    9. The speaker urges his heart to stop its “cold dispute” (line 20) so that he may

     a. regain his emotional composure

     b. become a religious convert

     c. seek the advice of more experienced philosophers

     d. enjoy natural pleasures with enthusiasm

     e. experience the simple life of a farmer 10. The “cage” (line 21) represents a kind of prison formed by

     a. religious scruples

     b. secular tyranny

     c. human bestiality

     d. foolish pleasures

     e. material possessions

    11. It can be inferred that the speaker’s desire to go abroad (lines 2 an 28 represents

     a. an initiation rite

     b. an abandonment of the strictures of conscience

     c. a suspect means of self-development

     d. a more mature way to attain freedom

     e. an escape from worldly temptations 10

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