A Comparison of John Donne’s Poetry
One of the greatest metaphysical poets of the 16th century, John Donne holds the belief that the pure, unadulterated idea and form of love is above all else, including religion, death, and the soul. This is perfectly encapsulated in two of his most exemplary works, The Good-Morrow and The Sunne Rising, which demonstrate his beliefs on the transcendental nature of love (more specifically, his love). Although both poems are, funnily enough, written around the concept of the Sun, the particular messages he is trying to convey through the poems have subtle distinctions between them. Whilst the Sunne Rising is written in an arrogant tone and seeks to portray Donne and his partner’s love as more significant than everything else in the world combined, The Good-Morrow instead portrays love as an immortal epiphany that is profound enough to render everything they had previously known as childish and puerile.
One of his earliest poems, the Good-Morrow is a brilliant meditation on the significance of love, as well as how love can be experienced as an astute awakening. The poem commences with Donne posing a rhetorical question to the readers: “I wonder…what thou and I Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then? But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?” As seen in the opening stanza, the author of the poem describes the first part of their lives (when they did not love each other) with contempt and disdain, saying that all the pleasures they experienced were “childish” and that they were only “weaned” like infants. Donne wrote that like children, they only had a limited understanding of the world and were only aware of some of the most “country [lowly]” pleasures. In the second stanza, Donne uses the Sun as a conceit, and explains how the discovery of love made him open his eyes, so to speak, and become enlightened. As Donne and his lover bid “good-morrow” to their “waking souls”, the sunrise symbolizes the rebirth and enlightenment (or the liberation of ignorance) of the two lovers as they learned the profound meaning of love. He then elevates love to the utmost significance as it becomes more important than the exploration and discovery of “new worlds” and can transform “one little room [their bedroom]” into “an everywhere [the entire world]”. The anaphora of the word “let” in lines 12–14 further emphasises this message. In the third and final and stanza, Donne concludes with the statement that their love is perfectly balanced. He proclaims that one cannot “find two better hemispheres, Without sharp north, without declining west”. He proposes that because their love is flawlessly balanced and that they are in perfect harmony, it essentially becomes immortal.
Another one of Donne’s poems, The Sunne Rising is strikingly similar to The Good-Morrow in its expression of romance between Donne and his partner and the poetic portrayal of it. The poem opens with the author being openly annoyed with the sun having disturbed them from their lovemaking during the night, with Donne calling the sun a “busy old fool” and “unruly”. He then exclaims that he should motion other people, such as “saucy pedantic wretches”, “sour prentices” and “late school boys”, but not lovers; since love is not affected by external factors and knows “no season”, “clime [climate]” nor “the rags of time”. This sets the tone for the poem as Donne introduces the readers to his metaphysical concepts. In the following 2 stanzas, Donne arrogantly expresses his views on love through exaggerated comparisons and hyperboles. He compares his lover to “both th’Indias of spice and mine” and “all states”, while saying he is “all princes”. Donne proclaims that compared to their love, “all honour’s mimic” and “all wealth [is] alchemy”. By saying that he is better than all of the world’s greatest rulers and their assets combined, Donne puts forward the argument that the power of love can make you more omnipotent and mightier than any otherworldly thing, hence making worldly desires and object obsolete in the face of love. The symbol of the Sun here is noticeably different from the one in The Good-Morrow. Unlike the Good-Morrow, where the Sun is used to symbolize and represent the rebirth and enlightenment of the two lovers, the sun in the Sun rising is used to represent what people at that time perceived as the greatest and most important object in the universe, as according to the ancient belief of the Great Chain of Being. By directly challenging the sun and claiming that he is just as, if not more powerful than it, Donne propels himself and his love to the most important things in the cosmos.
Although the sun is used as a conceit in both poems, Donne explores different ideas with each one. Whilst The Good-Morrow describes the effect of a sobering and profound epiphany, The Sunne Rising is an arrogant, playful and almighty portrayal of love. Both poems showcase Donne’s metaphysical style and take on romance, as well as his prevalent themes on the significance of love.