The Sunne Rising BY John Donne
The Sun Rising is one of Donne’s most noted love poem. It is an example of the aubade a “DAWN POEM”
The poem is built around a few hyperbolic assertion.
1. The sun has an observant personality of an old busybody.
2. Love, as the poet asserts, “no season knows, nor clime/ Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time”;
3. The speaker’s love affair is so important to the universe that kings and princes simply copy it. The world is contained within their bedroom.
Of course, these three assertions represent, describe a state of feeling.
- The bedroom seems to enclose all the matters in the world.
- Love has been disturbed by an intruder – the rising sun.
- The pretention that each of these subjective state of feeling is an objective truth
Summary of The Sunne Rising
This is an instance of an aubade, an Elizabethan song of love for the sun. Donne reverses this principle, however, and makes the poem an irreverent address to the sun. It’s dramatic, terse and complicated.
The poem starts with a direct and dramatic address to the sun as a personified “busie old foole”.The tone is insulting and impudent. The poet asks the sun why it attempts to wake and disturb the lovers calling through windows and curtains. He wonders whether lovers have to be regulated by it. He calls the sun as a saucy wretch and advises him to focus on hurrying schoolboys or ill-tempered apprentices, court followers or farmers (‘country ants’), leaving lovers alone in their duties. Since it has a sense of eternal reality, Love knows no seasons or times.
In stanza two, the poet asks the sun why he thinks that his beams are so powerful that the poet can blot them out by simply shutting his eyes – except that the poet does not want to do this, as it would mean sacrificing the sight of his lover. The poet asks the sun if the sun has not already been blinded by the beauty of his lady, to tell him where the abundance of spice and gold can be found in both the East and West Indies – on the journey of the sun across the world or in the bed of the poet. The sun should enquire where the Kings are that it has seen, and the answer would be that all this strength lies in the poet’s bed. Note the images of geographical exploration and politics used here. The world is just a pale contrast to the richness and strength found in the bed of the poet.
In the final stanza, the poet broadens his political profile by declaring that his lover is both all the states in the world and all its leaders. For him, “Nothing else is”—in other words, nothing else is true. Note the basic focus of the language here. Princes only imitate their influence, and wealth is only alchemy, i.e. a pretence (alchemy was a mediaeval pretence of science that tried to turn base metals into gold).
The sun is just half as happy as it is because it’s single. As the sun ages, the poet suggests that it will make life simpler by warming just the lovers, as the lovers’ bedroom is the entire universe. As the goal of the sun is to shine upon the entire earth, this will be done by shining only upon them. Their bed becomes the new centre of the sun’s orbit “thy spheare”. This is a victorious conclusion that the lovers’ room is worth everything in the whole world.
Analysis of The Sunne Rising
Let us begin with a brief summary of the poem. The poet and his beloved are still in bed as the sun rises in the morning. The poet playfully chides the sun nor to disturb him and his mistress and to attend to other matters. The poet mocks at the sun for imagining itself to be all-powerful, for he (the poet) can shut out its beams by closing his eyes. But he says he shall not do so, lest he loses sight of his beloved even for an instant. Continuing his impertinent tone, he tells the sun that he and his beloved constitute the whole world and therefore, if the sun needs a little rest from his labour, it can do its duty of warming the world by simply circling around the ‘two of them – for they are the whole world.
The poet assumes a playful mocking tone, quite out of character in a love poem.
Why does he begin with an outburst at the sun?
1) partly to proclaim that he and his mistress enjoy a timeless state of happiness and
therefore the sun’s intrusion to mark the day-break smacks of foolish interference.
2) but more to emphasise upon their state of timeless bliss that goes counter to the Sun’s rigid and obsessive concern with time This is clearly expressed in line 10 and 11.
In the course of the first five lines, the poet shifts attention from the Sun to himself and to his mistress (“call on us” (L.3)) and then back to the Sun (L.5). The tone varies from derision and scorn to lazy contentment (of being together in bed) and back to protest and gentle mockery. The poem ‘The Sunne Rising’ is a typical example of humorous bravado,
“the exultant brag” (Clay Hunt) of a lover which conceals the intense passion underneath these peremptory opening words.
4) “motions”: movements.
The Sun’s movements mark seasonal changes, but the lovers’ seasons do not stand affected.
While the above explanation is satisfactory, one notices a deeper and subtler meaning of the word “motions”. Towards the end of the 16C (i.e. the turn of the Century), the earlier Ptolemaic theory of the man-centred universe (the solar system moves around Man who is at the centre of the earth) was replaced by the new Copernican cosmology which said that the earth orbited about the central sun. Can you realise the implications of this discovery? The new theory reduced man to the status of a tiny, dwarfed creature moving on the surface of a minor planet-the earth-and around the sun. Donne does not accept this new philosophy. He intentionally claims a central position for him and his mistress in the face of all contrary scientific evidence. He says that the sun does not possess the dignified Copernican centre and he deliberately strips it of all its majesty to reduce it to a
foolish busy-body making his rounds to mark time. He dismisses as impertinence on the part of the sun to impose time on the lovers-its arbitrary division of time into ‘ days, hours and months (L. 10).
These lines extend the tone of gentle mockery. Continuing his sense of displeasure, he directs the sun to attend to trivial and humbler duties such as waking up school children and “sour apprentices”, court-huntsmen in the service of the king and lazy harvesters who all have to be reluctantly turned out of bed.
Line 8: “country ants”: peasants
Can you discern the paradox here as the poet compares his state of lying-in-bed with the wakeful state of all others mentioned above? The poet and his mistress though in bed are active in their experience of love while the others with their sleepy reluctance to wake up reveal their sluggishness. Hence he can later claim in L.21 that they two are the King and the Princes, “all states” and “all the world.
They are far superior to the rest of the world.
After his affirmation that their love is beyond “the rags of time” he begins yet another playful tirade at the sun. He asks the sun, “Why do you think that you possess all-powerful beams?’ The short line (12) “why shouldst thou thinke” with its stress on all the four syllables is intended to give the question a ring of personal assurance. He can boast in the next line (13) that he can blot out the sun’s beams by closing his eyes. But he will not do so far fear of losing sight of his mistress (L. 14)
Line 15: Instead of the Sun blinding its viewers with its powerful rays, Donne luxuriates hyperbole as he asks the sun if it is not blinded by the beauty of his mistress’ eyes!
This hyperbolic exaggeration coming at the end of his angry impatience reflects his all-embracing passion for his beloved.
“The India’s of Spice and Myne”: reference to both the East Indies (full of spices) ad the West Indies (full of gold mine).
Once again speaking in terms of the
sun’s motions, he says that the sun may go to the East or the West Indies, but both are here with him. He asks the Sun if it can find anything worthy outside of their little room, for everything is to be found here where he and his mistress lie.
All the treasures of the world, all its rich splendour are enclosed within that little sphere where they lie together. The entire universe shrinks in the presence of their magnificent love.
The poem builds on this rapturous exclamation as he says “She is all states, and all Princes, I”. But such extravagant boast does not sound ludicrous and is. made credible by the short line following: “Nothing else is”. The exaggerated hyperbole is brought down to the level of a plain statement – so direct and simple that no other sense can be read into it.
All these images focus our attention more on the experience of love, rather than on the physical beauty of his mistress. This is the achievement of Donne. In other words, a lover may be mistaken in his judgement of his mistress’s beauty, but the experience he undergoes as he thinks of her cannot be false.
Princes only imitate us. In their all-embracing state of total bliss, they possess almost everything in this world as though they are the sovereigns. “Us” is a key word as it reiterates the lover’s assured knowledge of their mutual and shared happiness. All other coveted things on earth – wealth and honour are but poor reflections of their rich treasured possession of each other.
From the vast expansive world, through which the sun traverses, through the West and the East Indies, through all states of Kings and Princes, the poet turns to their tiny world, the room in which they lie in bed. The whole world is contracted into their little world. Thus the world of the lovers is beyond time and space.
After this assertion of their world of love, the poet once more shifts to his earlier mocking tone as he addresses the Sun as ageing and therefore requiring ease and comfort. He asks the sun not to tire itself in the process of moving through the world to warm it, but it can shine on the two of them as they constitute the entire world.
Thus by the end of the poem, the majestic sun has been relegated to the role of an ancient, tired workman compelled to do his daily duties of waking and warming the world. The lover suggests that the sun can minimise its movement by remaining static in his room and shining on him and his mistress – who constitute the whole world. The poet has established the lovers’ superiority and he is no longer irascible as at the beginning. On the contrary, he welcomes the intrusion of the Sun by extending his permission to shine on them and thereby save its labour.
The poem thus amalgamates and diverse experiences, diverse tones and diverse imagery which gives it the specific metaphysical quality of wit. Samuel Johnson, the 18th C English critic, ‘characterised metaphysical poetry as “heterogeneous ideas yoked by violence together-nature and an are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons and illusions.” Metaphysical Poetry is full of conceits or far-fetched imagery. There are three modes of conceits in this poem – the dialectic, the rhetoric and the witty modes. The dialectic conceit helps to establish the truth (here the superiority of Love), the rhetoric aims at persuasion (persuading the sun at the end to give up its cumbersome labour to journey through the world and instead just shine on the two of them) and the witty mode seeks to blend apparently disparate experiences (where the sun with its astronomical antiquity is equated with human old age and thereby reduced to a subservient role in the context of the man-centred universe).
The poem is made of three regular stanzas of ten lines long and follows the rhyme scheme ABBACDCDEE.
The metre of the poem follows a line-stress pattern of the kind:
- Lines one, five and six are metered in iambic tetrameter (four feet).
- Line two is in dimeter (two feet).
- Lines three, four and seven through ten are in pentameter (five feet).