Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for youMost of the students did a fine job, looking carefully at the sonnet and thinking well about the imagery and word choices.
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov'd fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
Some of them didn't do quite as well, and their difficulties reminded me of the difficulty one of my students had way back when doing a short assignment which asked her to look at the imagery used for Jesus in "The Dream of the Rood." The difficulty is that they've been taught and strongly adopted one set of imagery for Jesus, and they're unwilling or unable to grasp other imagery for Jesus by themselves, without someone pointing out in an explicit way that they're accustomed to one sort of imagery, but that there's other imagery being used in this piece of literature. Usually, the imagery they've been taught is a Jesus as pastor imagery, with a totally merciful, kindly diety.
The student who reads like this, for example, writes that this poem is talking about how much Donne (or the speaker, if they're a bit more sophisticated) loves God and knows that he will be saved, of course.
That's not the imagery that Donne uses and it's not the God he imagines. His God is fearsome and aweful, and Donne's speaker expresses real doubt about their relationship.
In teaching early modern lit, I often teach texts that demonstrate a variety of imagery for the Christian diety, but students don't seem to ever misrecognize the pastoral, lamb of God sort of imagery for a more violent or doubtful imagery the way some students misrecognize violent or doubtful imagery as pastoral. Is that because students who've experienced more violent or doubtful imagery have also experienced the more pastoral imagery? Or have they been taught to approach religious imagery differently?
That said, I think some of the students who are reading Paradise Lost this semester are getting a lot out of thinking hard about the justification part. Do I get points for inspiring existential crises?