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In religious poetry, Donne as a religious poet, especially in the "Holy Sonnets", Donne explores his feelings toward God just as, in secular poetry, he explored his feelings toward his beloved. He defines the intricate balance of his attitude with similar subtlety, although, as already in the mature love poetry, delight in paradox has given place to the perception of interrelation. In religious poetry, as in the secular, profound emotion works upon Donne's intellect not as a narcotic but as a stimulant.
Donne as a religious poet,

In the Holy sonnets, the desire for intellectual rest is interwoven with a need for the emotional serenity he had tasted in marriage. He cries out to God in the tone of love:

" Take me to you, imprison me, for I Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, Not ever chaste, except you ravish me."

He expresses his love for God in terms of that of a lover, for his mistress, or as here, a woman for her lover, he trusts and mistrusts God's pity as the lover wavers between the sure sense of being loved and the recurrent fear that love may be withdrawn.

Thus, the image of a soul in meditation which the "Holy Sonnets" present is an image of a soul working out of its salvation in fear and trembling. The two poles between which it oscillates are our faith in the mercy of God and in Christ, and a sense of personal unworthiness that is very near to despair.

The element of conflict and doubt constitutes a remarkable feature of his "Holy Sonnets". This element of conflict and tension grew in him, possibly because of his consciousness of sin. He did not look to religion for an ecstasy of the spirit which would efface the memory, of the ecstasy of the flesh, but for an 'evenness' of piety which would preserve him from despair.

Donne is never didactic in his religious poetry but exposes himself, to analyze and lay bare his own moods of agitation, aspiration, and of humiliation, in the quest for God, and the surrender of his soul to him.

The general theme of Donne's religious poetry is the frailty and decay of the world. Other important themes are the insignificance of the man himself, the antithesis between the world and the spirit, the transitoriness and untransitoriness of all earthly enjoyments, and the pangs suffered by the soul in the imprisoning body. Donne is actually concerned not with the subtleties of doctrines, but with the infinite subtleties of temptation from which he asks to be delivered, the religion which gives passion to his poems is the religion in its most primary and fundamental sense. What Donne hankered after is purgative, purification, and illumination--a directing of heart.

Dunne's divine poems are the product of the conflict between his will and his temperament. In his love poetry, he is not concerned with what he ought or ought not to feel, but with the expression of feeling itself. In his divine poetry, feeling and thought are judged by the standard of what a Christian should feel or think. The truths of Donne's love poetry are truths of the imagination, which freely transmits personal experience. They are his own discoveries. The truths of revelation are the accepted basis of his religious poetry and imagination has here another task. It is to some extent fettered and limited.


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