Donne’s Holy Sonnet, particularly “Since She Whom I Loved” and “Oh to Vex me,” compare the speaker’s insincere desire for God to the narcissistic love between Lover and Beloved that is typical in Petrarchan sonnets. Scholars naturally place the speaker in the obvious role of Lover, with God as the unattainable Beloved. However, because of the speaker’s infidelity and prevalent narcissism, he proves to be no Lover at all. In reality, God’s complete devotion makes Him the true Lover. The speaker struggles with the paradox of this relationship; that his inconstancy and infidelity has inspired devotion in God. I agree with scholars such as Kim Johnson that argue that this paradox is explained because Donne’s adultery creates a need for Christ. However, this need is never fulfilled in this secular relationship, and ultimately Donne remains in torment and unrepentant. Donne does fulfill this relationship in his deathbed poem “A Hymn to God the Father,” in which he takes his rightful place as son of a divine Father. The secular, Lover/Beloved relationship reveals his fallen nature and need for Christ, but finds fulfillment only in a Father/son dependency. This poem, along with the two Holy Sonnets, reveal that for Donne earthly love and divine love are interdependent, and work together to create the divine love that man is capable of through grace.
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
"Conflicting Roles of the Speaker and the Divine in the Holy Sonnets,"
Criterion: A Journal of Literary Criticism: Vol. 9:
1, Article 13.
Available at: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/criterion/vol9/iss1/13