That I May Rise

John Donne is a poet who once compared two lovers to the legs of a drawing compass. He surprises his readers with interesting comparisons that make us think about something in a fresh way. Today’s reading, “That I May Rise” (page 6 in the CUA Primer), is John Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV. In it, Donne compares God to a forceful invader. Read the poem and see what you think about the following question: Is it appropriate for Donne to use imagery of such violence to refer to God?

Photo: “San Juan. Fort San Cristobal. Puerto Rico” by Tomás Fano is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. John Gaudreau says:

    With regards to Donne’s reference of God as a forceful invader, I do not necessarily agree with his opinion. I have always believed that God is a merciful, compassionate, and forgiving father who lets us “choose” to believe in him rather than “submit” to his will. I think Donne’s violent imagery of God lay mainly in the hardship he faced growing up when the Roman Catholics were a persecuted minority by the Anglicans. Whereas I see God as a loving father who is patient, just, and kind, Donne wrote about God like a King who threatens, punishes, and commands people.

  2. Jaesen Evangelista says:

    It’s interesting because I remember reading John Donne’s poem “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” and he spoke so eloquently on how transcendent his love is for his partner. And he presented that love using conceit, so a lot of complex metaphors. However, in this poem, Donne chooses to compare God, something ultimately complex and could be compared to anything for humans to better understand him, to a forceful invader. Now a forceful invader is something familiar, even historical, to people all around the world. So why would “the master of conceit” choose to compare God to something so familiar? Perhaps because he is not the only one who sees God this way. Perhaps he is stating what most of the world sees him as. Or maybe, in a broad sense, this is another form of conceit: a forceful invader is something no one think God would be. I don’t know, but I do find it interesting.

    As for my interpretation of God, I guess I have to say that the God I choose to worship and idolize is one of love and forgiveness. I’ve grown learning how to love and put others first. That is the God I know and the God I choose to lead me. Sure, when you crack open the Old Testament, you find God full of rage and anger, and some would say cruel possession of his people. However, reading it from a more general point of view, and of course bringing into the New Testament, God is actually a good God who only wants us living lives full of love and compassion just as he does. Plus, he gave us free will, which includes choosing to reject him or accept him. I don’t know about you, but in my history classes I never came across a “forceful invader” who granted such a promise. Take that, Donne!

  3. Ana Volz says:

    I’ll admit that this poem by John Donne is one of my favorites. A friend introduced me to this poem several years ago and I’ve loved it every since. I believe the “violent” language is less an expression of God’s nature as of human nature. St Paul says that he does the evil he does not well and fails to do the good he does will. Donne’s poem “That I May Rise” begs God to conquer a heart that wills, seeks, longs to belong to God, but struggles to surrender to him as it wishes. This is an experience which I relate to strongly. This poem resonates with heart and it’s longings very strongly: “bend / Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new… Dearly I love you, and would be loved fain, /… Take me to you, imprison me, for I, / Except you enthrall me, shall never be free, / Blue ever chaste, except you ravish me.”

  4. Jessica McCarthy says:

    I do not think it is appropriate for Donne to use imagery of such violence to refer to God. I think Donne needs to be patient and God will show him the true way. Donne expressions a lack of knowing his calling and mission that God has for him. Rather than being negative towards the situation, Donne should act on the opportunity to let God work through him. God may test you but with that test, God puts trust in you that you will preserve. Stay faithful and honoring God will only bring peace to you.

  5. Diego Amaya says:

    I remember my teacher saying she feared God. I never wondered why, maybe because people always say he’s powerful and all knowing. I see God as a loving and caring person, so I don’t agree with Donne and his imagery of God as a violent person.

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