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The Good Morrow by John Donne: Critical Analysis

The Poem

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?
‘Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love, all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,
Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres,
Without sharp north, without declining west?
Whatever dies, was not mixed equally;
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.

Starting With the Poem

The Good Morrow, published in 1633, in Donne’s collection entitled, “Songs and Sonnets” is a fitting testament to the poet’s mastery in deftly exploring the theme of love within the garb of Metaphysical traditions.

One of the basic features of the Metaphysical poets were that they sought to express their emotions by using intellect and thus deviated from the Petrarchan traditions, where “love” was seen as an unattainable entity and a lover, forever pining. The Good Morrow follows typical metaphysical trends in employing striking images, ideas, and allusions and remains one of the best poems of English language.

A Short Summary

The poet on waking up analyzes his past and present moments and comes to the conclusion that before loving, their lives had been irrelevant, much like that of children. But now, the deep love they share has awakened their souls making them view their little “bedroom” as the only world worth seeing and themselves as two superior hemispheres in comparison to the ones of the earth.

Stanza Wise Analysis

Stanza 1

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?
‘Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.

Ensuing with a rhetorical question, the poet goes directly into the heart of the matter – what they had done before loving, thereby hinting that he is probably going to form a certain conjecture shortly. Accordingly, he enlists various possibilities; perhaps resembling infants they had whiled away their time in idle “country pleasures,” or like the legendary Christian children, slept in the “Seven Sleepers’ den.” Finally, he makes clear, every “pleasure” had been mere “fancies, ” and any beautiful woman he had known had been mere “a dream of thee.”

Stanza 2

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love, all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,
Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.

Having acknowledged real love, the poet summons their “waking souls” and declares that they can now look at each other with a fondness they cherish for each. “Fear” does not form a constituent of such a passionate gaze and eventually urges them to look at their “one little room” as their only world. Thus, whether “sea-discoverers” find “new worlds” or others explore “maps,” for them, their individual bodies are their distinct worlds; his lover’s body is his world that he needs to explore and simultaneously, his body is a new world for her to seek.

Stanza 3

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres,
Without sharp north, without declining west?
Whatever dies, was not mixed equally;
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.

As the poet turns towards his beloved, he can see his face reflected in her eyes and the same happens with her too. Moreover, their expressions mirror the purity of their hearts, their undiluted devotions for each. Using an extended metaphor, conceit, he next compares themselves to two hemispheres like the ones that make the earth. But, there is a compelling deviation, for the poet declares that their “hemispheres” are “better” since the constancy of their affection renders them permanence such that paralyzing factors like “sharp north” winds or “declining west” are never a threat. Finally referring to medieval beliefs that death and diseases result from an imbalance in the bodily humors such as phlegm, blood, etc., he contends that if their passions are same on both sides, then it can never “slacken” or be a victim of death.

The Themes

The poem celebrates some significant aspects of love, and these ultimately serve as its different sub-themes.

Love as an All-Consuming Force

The poet says that “For love, all love of other sights controls/And makes one little room an everywhere,” thereby suggesting how their passion makes their “little room” their sole universe and thus allows them no time to think about worldly worries.

Love as Something Intensely Sexual

The poet is not at all interested in platonic love; he rather is keen to unravel the mysteries that his lover’s body possesses and consequently influences her to do the same. Their physical proximity is also hinted when he mentions, “My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears.”

Love as a Permanent, Pulsating Power

The love they share being constant and vibrant, aids in building build two perfect hemispheres that are immune to death and decay. Thus the sun never sets for them, and neither are they threatened by any other rotting entity.

Form

Sonnet in Iambic pentameter and hexameter

Rhyme Scheme

ABABCC

Tone

All throughout the poem, the poet maintains an easy conversational tone to explain his point of view.

Literary Devices

Symbols

In line 19, “sharp north” symbolizes negative forces like bitterness and disharmony

In line 19 “declining west” suggests disintegration

Imagery

The lines, “Were we not weaned till then? /But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?” evokes a picture of children being breastfed

The line, “And makes one little room an everywhere” creates an impression of their fulfilling passion that does not require any external sights or scenes.

Figurative Language

Allusion

  • Lines 4, 5: The poet alludes to the legend of “The Seven Sleepers” that narrate how a group of Christian children who in spite of being buried alive by the Roman emperor, Decius, were found sleeping when the entrance was opened 187 years later.
  • Lines 17, 18: The poet here alludes to the concept of Aristophanes that held that humans originally being both males and females were shaped like globes. It was only when they were punished by the Gods for their daring disobedience that they were separated. Consequently, there is an inevitable longing of one-half for the other.
  • The poet also alludes to the cordiform maps of the seventeenth century that depicted the two hemispheres of the world as two hearts.

Alliteration

  • Line 2: The repetition of “w” in “. . . Were we not wean’d till then?”
  • Line 4: The repetition of “s” in “Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?”

Rhetorical Question

Lines 1 to 4:

  • I wonder . . .what thou and I / Did, till we lov’d?
  • Were we not wean’d till then?
  • But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
  • Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?

Metonymy

  • Line 6: “Beauty” stands for beautiful woman
  • Line 11: “One world” indicates each lover

Metaphor

  • Line 2‑3: The phase before falling in love is compared to childhood
  • Line 5: All “pleasures” are compared with “fancies”
  • Line 8: Acknowledgement of their passion endows their souls a reawakening or a “good morrow” that enables them to find eternal bliss in each other. Thus, the title acts as a metaphor of the whole poem.
  • Line 17‑18: The lovers compare themselves with the earth’s hemispheres

Hyperbole

Line 3: The idea that their previous phase had been childish is exaggerated by comparing their then vocation to aimlessly sucking milk off a mother’s breast

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  • i wonder by my troth what thou and i is it a metaphor?

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