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John Donne's Holy Sonnet XV

John Donne's early poems focus on secular topics, while his Holy Sonnets enlighten and enliven the beautiful tradition in spiritual writing.

John Donne

Introduction and Text of Holy Sonnet XV

From John Donne's The Holy Sonnets, the speaker in Holy Sonnet XV is addressing his soul in mediation, commanding it to understand completely its own nature—that it is an image of the Divine. As he always does, this speaker is examining his own understanding of his faith.

The speaker likely has reasoned that if he can put his mystical awareness in his little dramas, that ability will assure him that he does, in fact, comprehend what he is learning from his studies, his meditations, and his prayers.

Holy Sonnet XV

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 deign'd 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.

Reading of Holy Sonnet XV

Commentary

The speaker commands his soul to seek assurance of his faith.

First Quatrain: Commanding the Soul

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 speaker addresses his soul in meditation, asking it to understand the beautiful idea that the Divine Beloved lives in his own heart. He asks his soul if it is capable of loving God as God loves the human soul. Assuming that a positive answer is in the offing, he then commands that soul to take into itself and live the faith and efficacy that knowing that the spark of the Divine resides in him can bring.

It must be remembered that this speaker is seeking solace in his knowledge that he will be departing this earth soon. He can intuit that his soul will leave its physical encasement and as he prepares for that eventuality, he continues to examine his faith vis-à-vis biblical lore. All he knows is now being employed to reason and understand his own nature and that of his Creator.

Second Quatrain: Complex Relationships

The Father having begot a Son most blest,
And still begetting—for he ne'er begun—
Hath deign'd to choose thee by adoption,
Co-heir to His glory, and Sabbath's endless rest.

The speaker then reasons that he can compare his own relationship to the Beloved Creator as an adopted son. The Creator fashioned a "most blest" "Son" and continued to create—or in reality nothing begins and nothing ends—but the speaker contends that his own existence cannot compare to that of the Christ's. Thus his own "sonship" must resemble an adopted son.

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Still the speaker is aware that he is "co-heir" to the most blessed one's "glory." He deserves to share the glory and the eternal "rest" offered by a day of prayer and meditation. He will not remain shy about demanding what he knows he deserves as a child of God.

Third Quatrain: Divine Awareness

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.

The speaker then compares humankind's lot to the man who is robbed. When the victim tries to regain his stolen possessions, he has the choice of buying them back or just letting them go. That "Son of glory" who descended to earth and allowed his physical encasement to be shattered did so to "unbind" humankind from that Satan-robbed status.

That Satan would rob humankind of its soul qualities remains part of the science of duality under which each soul must struggle to overcome its karma. The speaker understands the relationships that grow and transform under the laws of karma and reincarnation. That he is meditating on those qualities demonstrates that knows the nature of stillness and its relationship to Divine awareness.

The Couplet: Made in the Image

'Twas much, that man was made like God before,
But, that God should be made like man, much more.

The speaker then alludes to the human being having been made in the "image of God." He finds that such knowledge is great, yet even greater is the awareness that God is also made in the image of humankind.

That co-equality is hardly ever addressed because it makes the human being sound as if he is making a god of himself; the seeming blasphemy is hard for fundamentalists to grasp. But this speaker, however, sees that if a man is made in the image of God, then that obviously means that God also exists in the image of the man. Of course, he knows that such ancient and sacred knowledge does not belong solely to the physical encasement but does inhere to the soul.

As the reader recalls that the speaker began by addressing his "soul," it becomes obvious that the speaker is not saying a man in his physical encasement is an exact replica of his Creator, but, instead that the Creator is, however, an exact replica (image) of the soul. This speaker has learned to live and move by soul power, and as he continues to create his dramas, he become stronger and more determined in his faith and trust in the Divine Reality.

Monument

Reading of "Death's Duel"

Questions & Answers

Question: What is the speaker trying to accomplish in Donne's Holy Sonnet XV?

Answer: The speaker in Holy Sonnet XV is addressing his soul in mediation, commanding it to understand completely its own nature—that it is an image of the Divine. As he always does, this speaker is examining his own understanding of his faith. He likely has reasoned that if he can put his mystical awareness in his little dramas, that ability will assure him that he does, in fact, comprehend what he is learning from his studies, his meditations, and his prayers.

© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

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