Batter my heart, three-person'd God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
• The speaker begins by asking God (along with Jesus and the Holy Ghost; together, they make up the "three-personed God") to attack his heart as if it were the gates of a fortress town.
• If you are caught up on the word "batter," note that back in medieval times, in order to break down the door of a fortress or castle, you'd have to use a battering ram. It's a huge pole of wood, possibly with a ram carving on the front.
• He asks God to "batter" his heart, as opposed to what God has been doing so far: just knocking, breathing, shining, and trying to help the speaker heal.
• Those actions are nice and all, but Donne wants something a little more intense. Scholars focus a lot on these verbs, and the words are certainly stressed in the line (notice how you accent these verbs and pause between them when you read the poem out loud), so let's break them down a bit.
• First of all, none of the verbs are particularly active. God asks to come in by knocking, which is nice, but he also just breathes and shines, two things that he might do out of necessity — not choice. When we breathe, it's normally not because we choose to, and the same applies to things that shine.
• The "mending" seems nice, but note that Donne says "seek to mend," and not just "mend." Does God really "seek to" do anything? Doesn't He just do it, if he's all-powerful?
• So, what about the specific actions? Are they particularly significant? Well lots of scholars think that the three verbs mirror the set-up of a "three-personed God" (the Christian notion of the Trinity). Thus, they associate the Father with power as he knocks but ought to break, the Holy Ghost with breath as he breathes but ought to blow like a strong wind, and the Son with light as he shines but ought to burn like fire.
• These actions make some sense as representative actions of each part...