Holy Sonnet XVIII by John Donne Essay

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I will analyze John Donne’s Holy Sonnet XVIII. This sonnet is a variant of an Italian Sonnet with a volta occurring, unusually, at line 11 instead of the standard at line 9. The theme of this sonnet is the search for the true church of Christ among the various conflicting denominations of Christianity. Significant words, metaphysical conceit, metrics, sound patterns and tone come together to develop and clarify the theme. I will analyze the sonnet in three parts, beginning with the octave followed by the first two lines of the sestet and finally, the last four lines of the sestet.
The octave is the first eight lines of the sonnet and it is where the poet sets forth his proposition and answers the questions of who/what, when and where. In this sonnet, the proposition is the dilemma of where the true church is and how one might find it. Note that this is also the theme of the sonnet. Donne uses significant words to lay the foundation for the theme by establishing the subject (i.e. who and what). For example, “spouse” and “she” combine to establish the subject as the true church. “Spouse” conjures the religious imagery in which the church is the ‘bride’ of Christ. In Ephesians 5:22-241, there is a comparison made between the relationship between a husband and wife to that of the relationship between Christ and the church. The repeated use of “she” in reference to the spouse reinforces the ‘spousal’ relationship between Christ and church in which the church takes on the role of the wife and Christ the husband. This example is also the first metaphysical conceit seen in the sonnet. A few other significant words of importance are “richly painted”, “robbed”, and “tore” although dissimilar in direct meaning, all refer to the different ...

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...ture which wasn’t expressed in the first 10 lines of the sonnet. John Donne concludes his sonnet in a shocking manner with his resolution of sexual impropriety willingly committed by the true church as way to allow followers to find the church.
John Donne uses significant words, metaphysical conceit, metrics, sound patterns and tone to bring forth and clarify the theme of the search for the true church among the various denominations of Christianity. He does this through using significant words to establish subject and bring forth imagery and parallels then using metrics and sound patterns to develop a tone to bind to the passages. Finally he uses metaphysical conceit to resolve issues of how to find the church. This sonnet is a brilliantly written verse that challenges reader in subject matter and interpretation and offers alternative and unusual point of view.

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