Paper: John Donne, Holy Sonnet 11

Paper: “John Donne, Holy Sonnet 11” (PDF), or read via Google Docs

For my English class, our second essay involved writing a poem on a Renaissance work of literature. Originally I wanted to write about something more secular, since I discussed the sovereignty of God in my first paper on Beowulf and didn’t want to re-hash that essay; I also knew I wanted to write on a work of John Donne’s. (I’ve been a fan since my AP Literature teacher explained the intricacy of the compass metaphor in “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning.”) But after reading through his secular poetry, I didn’t find anything particularly compelling–so I turned to his collection of Holy Sonnets. I was intrigued by 9, 11, and 19 in particular, and finally settled on number 11. It was a delight to write, not in small part for its personal treatment of 1 Corinthians 1:23-24. If you’ve got a few minutes, I’d recommend at least reading a few of Donne’s sonnets. John Donne became an Anglican preacher under King James, and his dexterity with language combines beautifully with his faith in Holy Sonnet 11, among others. Sonnet 11 and the related Scripture are included below.

Spit in my face ye Jews, and pierce my side,
Buffet, and scoff, scourge, and crucify me,
For I have sinned, and sinned, and only he,
Who could do no iniquity, hath died:
But by my death cannot be satisfied
My sins, which pass the Jews’ impiety:
They killed once an inglorious man, but I
Crucify him daily, being now glorified.
Oh, let me then, his strange love still admire:
Kings pardon, but he bore our punishment.
And Jacob came clothed in vile harsh attire
But to supplant, and with gainful intent:
God clothed himself in vile man’s flesh, that so
He might be weak enough to suffer woe.

[W]e preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:23-24)

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