This essay explores the nuances of annihilation across John Donne’s oeuvre to bring into view his sophisticated representation and analysis of unexemplary martyrdom. Donne discovered that poetic making itself may prepare for but ultimately marks the lack of the self-annihilation required for martyrdom. A new reading of “Batter my heart” reveals that Donne, typically thought of as vigorously dismissive of martyrdom, developed a sophisticated theory of a passive martyrdom. This martyrdom is free from any human willing and cannot be imitated; it is, as Donne calls it, “passive action.” In Pseudo-Martyr, Biathanatos, and his sermons, this theory underwrites Donne’s analysis of Samson and violent actions undertaken against a state as well as Christ’s ultimate sacrifice.

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