Holy Sonnet IX

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Holy Sonnet IX

  1. 1. HOLY SONNET IX<br />Jeanne Weaver<br />Dr. Wharton<br />March 12, 2010<br />
  2. 2. Holy Sonnet 9<br />If poisonous minerals, and if that tree,Whose fruit threw death on (else immortal) us,If lecherous goats, if serpents enviousCannot be damn'd, alas ! why should I be ?Why should intent or reason, born in me,Make sins, else equal, in me more heinous ?And, mercy being easy, and gloriousTo God, in His stern wrath why threatens He ?But who am I, that dare dispute with Thee ?O God, O !  of Thine only worthy blood,And my tears, make a heavenly Lethean flood,And drown in it my sin's black memory.That Thou remember them, some claim as debt ;I think it mercy if Thou wilt forget. <br />
  3. 3. The rhyme scheme for Holy Sonnet IX is: ABBA ABBA ACCA DD<br />
  4. 4. Holy Sonnet 9<br />If poisonous minerals, and if that tree,Whose fruit threw death on (else immortal) us,If lecherous goats, if serpents enviousCannot be damn'd, alas ! why should I be ?Why should intent or reason, born in me,Make sins, else equal, in me more heinous ?And, mercy being easy, and gloriousTo God, in His stern wrath why threatens He ?But who am I, that dare dispute with Thee ?O God, O !  of Thine only worthy blood,And my tears, make a heavenly Lethean flood,And drown in it my sin's black memory.That Thou remember them, some claim as debt ;I think it mercy if Thou wilt forget. <br />
  5. 5. The argument that the speaker offers in the first eight lines of the poem is rejected, not because it is unreasonable, but precisely because it is reasonable. <br />And the protests, although emotional, are "not illogical"; for even though the complaint of God preferring retribution over mercy is "a specious argument, as [the speaker] recognizes in his outcry," it is an argument that has no "textual warrant”<br />Rather the outcry of the speaker is not a recognition that the argument is specious but a recognition that the speaker "should not advance any argument against God"<br />Chong, Kenneth. "Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Self-Chastisement in Donne's 'If PoysonousMineralls'." Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Réforme 29.4 (2005): 41-55. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 3 Mar. 2010.<br />
  6. 6. Holy Sonnet 9<br />If poisonous minerals, and if that tree,Whose fruit threw death on (else immortal) us,If lecherous goats, if serpents enviousCannot be damn'd, alas ! why should I be ?Why should intent or reason, born in me,Make sins, else equal, in me more heinous ?And, mercy being easy, and gloriousTo God, in His stern wrath why threatens He ?But who am I, that dare dispute with Thee ?O God, O !  of Thine only worthy blood,And my tears, make a heavenly Lethean flood,And drown in it my sin's black memory.That Thou remember them, some claim as debt ;I think it mercy if Thou wilt forget. <br />
  7. 7. The ambiguity stems primarily from the reference of the pronoun "them" in "That Thou remember them, some claime as debt,/I think it mercy, if Thou wilt forget." <br />"Them" in this sonnet of penitence probably refers to "some," who ask to be remembered for their works, whereas the speaker pleads for salvation through God's mercy. A scriptural parallel and likely source is Romans IV.4-5<br />Archer, Stanley L. "Donne's Holy Sonnets IX." Explicator 30.(1971): MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 3 Mar. 2010.<br />
  8. 8. Holy Sonnet 9<br />If poisonous minerals, and if that tree,Whose fruit threw death on (else immortal) us,If lecherous goats, if serpents enviousCannot be damn'd, alas ! why should I be ?Why should intent or reason, born in me,Make sins, else equal, in me more heinous ?And, mercy being easy, and gloriousTo God, in His stern wrath why threatens He ?But who am I, that dare dispute with Thee ?O God, O !  of Thine only worthy blood,And my tears, make a heavenly Lethean flood,And drown in it my sin's black memory.That Thou remember them, some claim as debt ;I think it mercy if Thou wilt forget. <br />
  9. 9. The speaker asks that his “sinnes black memory” be erased; it is not only the speaker’s memory of his sins that is involved here, but God’s memory of them as well. <br />The speaker’s forgetting, we can infer, is dependant upon God’s prior act of mercy in the forgiveness and forgetting of these sins. The speaker also recognizes the “claim” that God should be mindful of his sins – The speaker’s own sins – just as He is mindful of the sinful state of fallen man, of original sin. <br />Linville, Susan. "Donne's 'Holy Sonnets IX'." Explicator 36.4 (1978): 21-22. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 3 Mar. 2010.<br />
  10. 10. Holy Sonnet 9<br />If poisonous minerals, and if that tree,Whose fruit threw death on (else immortal) us,If lecherous goats, if serpents enviousCannot be damn'd, alas ! why should I be ?Why should intent or reason, born in me,Make sins, else equal, in me more heinous ?And, mercy being easy, and gloriousTo God, in His stern wrath why threatens He ?But who am I, that dare dispute with Thee ?O God, O !  of Thine only worthy blood,And my tears, make a heavenly Lethean flood,And drown in it my sin's black memory.That Thou remember them, some claim as debt ;I think it mercy if Thou wilt forget. <br />
  11. 11. The sonnet as a whole moves from prideful disputation, in which reason attempts to exempt itself and man from the special position it places him in, to a humility which recognizes both the rational claim that man’s culpability should not be forgotten, and the supra-rational process through which Christ’s sacrifice and the speaker’s contrition can cancel out that debt.<br />Linville, Susan. "Donne's 'Holy Sonnets IX'." Explicator 36.4 (1978): 21-22. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 3 Mar. 2010.<br />
  12. 12. Holy Sonnet 9<br />If poisonous minerals, and if that tree,Whose fruit threw death on (else immortal) us,If lecherous goats, if serpents enviousCannot be damn'd, alas ! why should I be ?Why should intent or reason, born in me,Make sins, else equal, in me more heinous ?And, mercy being easy, and gloriousTo God, in His stern wrath why threatens He ?But who am I, that dare dispute with Thee ?O God, O !  of Thine only worthy blood,And my tears, make a heavenly Lethean flood,And drown in it my sin's black memory.That Thou remember them, some claim as debt ;I think it mercy if Thou wilt forget. <br />
  13. 13. The “some" in line 13 is not specific, but refers generally to all who maintain this theological position. The sonnet concludes, however, with a plea for mercy greater than justice, greater than fallen man could ever “claim as debt”: it concludes with the reiterated plea that God should forget the speaker’s sins. <br />Linville, Susan. "Donne's 'Holy Sonnets IX'." Explicator 36.4 (1978): 21-22. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 3 Mar. 2010.<br />
  14. 14. Holy Sonnet 9<br />If poisonous minerals, and if that tree,Whose fruit threw death on (else immortal) us,If lecherous goats, if serpents enviousCannot be damn'd, alas ! why should I be ?Why should intent or reason, born in me,Make sins, else equal, in me more heinous ?And, mercy being easy, and gloriousTo God, in His stern wrath why threatens He ?But who am I, that dare dispute with Thee ?O God, O !  of Thine only worthy blood,And my tears, make a heavenly Lethean flood,And drown in it my sin's black memory.That Thou remember them, some claim as debt ;I think it mercy if Thou wilt forget. <br />
  15. 15. The unrepentant reader is initially lead to believe that it is entirely reasonable until the argument of the octet is questioned by the speaker in the lines that follow it; and the reader, now aware of his or her own sinfuhiess (as exemplified in the reading of the poem), is brought to repentance in the same way as the speaker. <br />The basis for the rhetorical strategy that Donne uses here, I believe, can be found in Paul's epistle to the Romans<br />Chong, Kenneth. "Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Self-Chastisement in Donne's 'If PoysonousMineralls'." Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Réforme 29.4 (2005): 41-55. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 3 Mar. 2010.<br />
  16. 16. Holy Sonnet 9<br />If poisonous minerals, and if that tree,Whose fruit threw death on (else immortal) us,If lecherous goats, if serpents enviousCannot be damn'd, alas ! why should I be ?Why should intent or reason, born in me,Make sins, else equal, in me more heinous ?And, mercy being easy, and gloriousTo God, in His stern wrath why threatens He ?But who am I, that dare dispute with Thee ?O God, O !  of Thine only worthy blood,And my tears, make a heavenly Lethean flood,And drown in it my sin's black memory.That Thou remember them, some claim as debt ;I think it mercy if Thou wilt forget. <br />
  17. 17. One might object by saying that the substitution of the first-person pronoun "I" for the second-person pronoun "thou" of Romans in the sonnet means that Donne is not drawing on the ancient rhetorical technique of speech-in-character found in Paul's epistle, and therefore the reader is not concerned with the outcome of the speaker's argument. The reverse, however, is true.<br />It follows that by choosing the first person over the second-person pronoun, Donne intensifies rather than weakens the reader's participation in the speaker's fortunes and is more effective in helping the reader identify, on an emotional level, with the speaker and his attitude.<br />Chong, Kenneth. "Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Self-Chastisement in Donne's 'If PoysonousMineralls'." Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Réforme 29.4 (2005): 41-55. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 3 Mar. 2010.<br />
  18. 18. Holy Sonnet 9<br />If poisonous minerals, and if that tree,Whose fruit threw death on (else immortal) us,If lecherous goats, if serpents enviousCannot be damn'd, alas ! why should I be ?Why should intent or reason, born in me,Make sins, else equal, in me more heinous ?And, mercy being easy, and gloriousTo God, in His stern wrath why threatens He ?But who am I, that dare dispute with Thee ?O God, O !  of Thine only worthy blood,And my tears, make a heavenly Lethean flood,And drown in it my sin's black memory.That Thou remember them, some claim as debt ;I think it mercy if Thou wilt forget. <br />
  19. 19. John Donne's prose and poetry are filled with references to, as well as accounts of, his self-understanding as a melancholic. <br />If we take his self-professed depressive tendencies as seriously as his devotional meditations, we find that the two are interlinked: Donne often describes ecstatic religious experience with the same metaphors of earthly instability and material metamorphoses he uses to catalogue his melancholic, self-destructive inclinations.<br />Trevor, Douglas. "John Donne and Scholarly Melancholy." SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 40.1 (2000): 81-102. Project MUSE. Georgia Tech Library, Atlanta, GA. 1 Mar. 2010 <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.<br />
  20. 20. Holy Sonnet 9<br />If poisonous minerals, and if that tree,Whose fruit threw death on (else immortal) us,If lecherous goats, if serpents enviousCannot be damn'd, alas ! why should I be ?Why should intent or reason, born in me,Make sins, else equal, in me more heinous ?And, mercy being easy, and gloriousTo God, in His stern wrath why threatens He ?But who am I, that dare dispute with Thee ?O God, O !  of Thine only worthy blood,And my tears, make a heavenly Lethean flood,And drown in it my sin's black memory.That Thou remember them, some claim as debt ;I think it mercy if Thou wilt forget. <br />
  21. 21. These lines include an allusion to the Garden of Eden. In Eden, first Eve and then Adam ate of the fruit God had forbidden them. <br />As a result, God decreed that Adam and Eve should know death. In Genesis, 3:19, God says to Adam: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."<br />"Holy Sonnet 9." Michigan State University. Web. 3 Mar. 2010. <https://www.msu.edu/course/eng/491h/snapshot.afs/robins29/fs00/Worksheet/source/New%20Worksheets/Donne%27s%20_If%20poisonous%20mrls.html>.<br />
  22. 22. Works Cited<br />Archer, Stanley L. "Donne's Holy Sonnets IX." Explicator 30.(1971): MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 3 Mar. 2010.<br />Chong, Kenneth. "Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Self-Chastisement in Donne's 'If PoysonousMineralls'." Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Réforme 29.4 (2005): 41-55. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 3 Mar. 2010.<br />Christ's Sacrifice. Digital image. The Crossroad's Initiative. Http://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/library_article/44/Understanding_the_Mass__Part_I____Christ_s_Sacrifice.htmlministry of Dr. MarcellinoD'Ambrosio. Web. 12 Mar. 2010.<br />"Holy Sonnet 9." Michigan State University. Web. 3 Mar. 2010. <https://www.msu.edu/course/eng/491h/snapshot.afs/robins29/fs00/Worksheet/source/New%20Worksheets/Donne%27s%20_If%20poisonous%20mrls.html>.<br />John Donne. Digital image. John Donne Infosite. Mosaic. Web. 11 Mar. 2010. <http://www.johndonne.net/>.<br />
  23. 23. Works Cited<br />Linville, Susan. "Donne's 'Holy Sonnets IX'." Explicator 36.4 (1978): 21-22. MLA International Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 3 Mar. 2010.<br />Romans 4:4-5. Digital image. The Old Covenant and the New Covenant. ABDA ACTS- Art and Publishing. Web. 12 Mar. 2010. <http://www.tne.net.au/~abdaacts/ocnc.html>.<br />The Garden of Eden. Digital image. Heaven Awaits. Marianne. Web. 12 Mar. 2010. <http://heavenawaits.wordpress.com/2008/06/20/the-garden-of-eden-and-the-%E2%80%9Cpit%E2%80%9D-%E2%80%93-the-tioran-land-drift-theory/>.<br />Trevor, Douglas. "John Donne and Scholarly Melancholy." SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 40.1 (2000): 81-102. Project MUSE. Georgia Tech Library, Atlanta, GA. 1 Mar. 2010 <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.<br />

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