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'The Good Morrow' (1633) is a famous love poem written by John Donne. With references to geography, philosophy, religion, spirituality and science, it is a typical example of the metaphysical genre that was criticised by Samuel Johnson and praised by T.S. Eliot.
Metaphysical poems were largely written by British poets between the late 16th and the 17th centuries. Their works typically featured extended metaphors called conceits, unusual comparisons and apparent paradoxes.
The term metaphysical poetry was coined by the critic Samuel Johnson in the 17th century, who believed that their poems exhibited gratuitous displays of learning. T.S. Eliot made the genre famous during the Modernist movement in the 20th century.
John Donne was born in London in 1572. His family were Roman Catholic at a time when the religion was outlawed. Several of Donne’s relatives were persecuted for their faith. His father, also named John, was a wealthy ironmonger who died when he was just four years old. Donne's mother, Elizabeth Heywood, later remarried a physician, John Syminge.
Donne attended Hart College, Oxford, where he studied French and Latin. Although he spent three years there, he was not awarded a degree due to his Catholic faith. He later studied law at Lincoln Inn, preparing for a career in public service.
Having travelled throughout Continental Europe and blown most of his inheritance, Donne returned to England. He found work as the secretary for Lord Thomas Egerton, who held a prominent political position. Donne’s career was cut short by his secret marriage to Anne More, the 17-year-old daughter of one of Egerton’s relatives. Sir George More, Anne’s father, had Donne dismissed from his job and temporarily jailed.
Donne spent the next decade largely impoverished and did not find regular employment again until King James I commanded that he be ordained in 1615. During this time, he and Anne lived in the countryside, where he wrote poetry that was shared and copied by his friends.
In 1617, Donne’s wife Anne died during a difficult childbirth. He never remarried, focusing instead on his religious occupation. In 1621, Donne was elected Dean of St Paul’s and went on to become one of the most well-known Anglican clerics of his age.
He died in 1631. Although a famous religious orator in his lifetime, it is his poetry that he is now known for. Donne's poems were not published during his lifetime and fell out of favour until T.S. Eliot made them into mainstream favourites during the Modernist era.
'The Good Morrow' is one of Donne’s most famous metaphysical poems. No one is quite sure when it was written. The poem is a subversion of the traditional audabe and can also be considered a dramatic monologue.
An audabe is a love poem which usually takes place at dawn.
A dramatic monologue is a poem written in the first person which lets the readers into the thoughts and feelings of the speaker.
|'The Good Morrow'|
|Published in||Songs and Sonnets (1633)|
|Written by||John Donne|
|Meter||Iambic pentameter and Iambic hexameter|
|Literary devices||Conceit, alliteration, parallelism, chiasmus|
|Themes||Microcosms and macrocosms|
|Type||Subverted aubade, dramatic monologue|
Think about what you already know about the structure and literary devices as you read the poem 'The Good Morrow' below. Consider how these elements work together to affect your reading.
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.'
The poem is a metaphysical love poem that portrays the shift from the 'childish' types of attraction or lust to a more 'true' kind of love. The poetic voice is that of a lover, it is assumed he is male, who wakes up in the morning and speaks to his lover about life before they met each other.
He goes on to describe and contrast their love in a variety of ways, comparing it to discovery, maps, two hemispheres, and reflections. 'The Good Morrow' is considered one of the finest examples of metaphysical poetry because of its use of devices like conceit and its philosophical approach. Let's take a look at the structure and some literary devices that Donne uses to create meaning in his poem.
A conceit is a type of extended metaphor. It can be the comparison between two dissimilar objects.
The poem comprises three septets that follow a regular rhyme scheme of ABABCCC. Donne uses Iambic pentameter for the first six lines of each stanza and Iambic hexameter for each stanza's last line.
This structure creates an overall sense of regularity but also features the combining of two types of meter into one poem.
Iambic pentameter is a poetic meter. It consists of five iambs with two syllables each. The first is unstressed, while the second is stressed. It sounds like this:
duh-DUH duh-DUH duh-DUH duh-DUh duh-DUH
Iambic hexameter is made up of six iambs with two syllables each.
Keep this combination of two meters into one stanza in mind as you continue to read through the examples of literary devices used by Donne.
Donne makes use of many devices, from the typically metaphysical conceit to chiasma and alliteration. These devices are used alongside what was in his day more colloquial language to create the poem’s sense of tone, rhythm, and meaning.
As the device most often associated with metaphysical poetry, the conceit is, of course, central to 'The Good Morrow' too. Donne uses two key conceits in 'The Good Morrow'.
The first is a conceit that is both inferred and addressed directly. As the poem is an aubade, so we know that it is set in the morning as the lovers are waking up. The conceit is an extended metaphor between two meanings of the word 'awaking'. It is the literal awakening from sleep that happens in the morning, which is inferred, and also the more abstract spiritual awakening that Donne mentions directly in 'our waking souls' (line 8).
The second conceit is introduced in the final stanza, linking the concepts of 'two worlds becoming one' from stanza two to the reflections of the other person in the eyes of each lover. The concept of 'each hath one, and is one' (line 14) is repeated by the line 'My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears.' (line 15).
Do you think these conceits are effective ways to describe love? Why? Can you think of other poetic examples that you either prefer or think are less effective?
Linked to the repetition of concepts between stanza two and the final stanza is the use of chiasmus in 'My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears.' (line 15). Here Donne is reinforcing the concepts of 'mirrored worlds' or 'two worlds as one' at a grammatical level.
Chiasmus is a rhetorical device. It usually features the flipping or reversing of a grammatical structure within one line.
In the final couplet, the theme of mutual love that is equal in the measure is duplicated in the use of syntactic parallelism, especially in 'that none do slacken, none can die.' (line 21). Syntactic parallelism is a rhetorical device, mostly used to provide emphasis to a central theme. It is the repetition of a syntactic form within a single line.
Alliteration is the repetition of the first letter of a word, usually the same line or the same stanza. This device is often used to create a sense of rhythm. Donne uses alliteration extensively in 'The Good Morrow.'
In the first stanza, the repeated 'w' that is begun with the word 'wonder' is repeated twice in the word 'we' and again in the word 'weaned'. The choice of words, as well as the repeated 'we', may indicate that Donne is using alliteration to add meaning and rhythm.
Alliteration, or more specifically sibilance, features again in the repeated 's' in lines 2–4. The words that are deliberately linked by their 's' sounds, 'sucked', 'snorted', and 'Seven Sleepers' tie together the ideas of the pre-awakening phases of early childhood and being asleep.
The Seven Sleepers refers to a legend that is known to exist in Christian and Islamic versions, with a few other possible variations. It features a number, this number differs across versions of young men who fall asleep in a cave for a prolonged period of time. In the Christian version, thought to date back to the 5th century, the seven youths sleep until the members of their religion are no longer persecuted. This version is called the 'Seven Sleepers of Ephesus'.
There are many themes in 'The Good Morrow', but let's take a look at a central one that also features in other works by Donne.
In the line, 'And makes one little room an everywhere.' (line 11), Donne makes clear the link between the microcosm of the lover's room and the greater macrocosm of the world or universe. The poetic voice refers to them as one entity. It is interesting to note the use of 'an everywhere' rather than just 'everywhere'. By using this specific term, Donne implies that there may be more than one 'everywhere' but that this doesn’t matter.
This theme of the microcosm being equal to or greater than the macrocosm is also used in Donne’s other subverted aubade, 'The Sun Rising' (1633). It is a reference to the philosophical thought that originated with Plato and was continued by the Neoplatonists. The idea was that humanity represented the microcosm, which was replicated by the macrocosm of the world and then again in the greater macrocosm of the universe.
Plato was a Greek philosopher who lived roughly between 428BC–328BC. The idea that humanity and the universe are related as macrocosms and microcosms was first introduced to the West in his dialogue, 'Timaeus' (360BC).
There are many possible meanings of 'The Good Morrow'. One example of an interpretation is that the poem expresses love as a spiritual or possibly religious experience.
Another example of an interpreted meaning is that love makes two worlds into one, it unifies.
There are a few themes in 'The Good Morrow' other than the obvious love theme.
A key theme that features in Donne's other work too, is that of the microcosm and its relationship to the macrocosm.
It contains at least one conceit, which is a characteristic of metaphysical poems.
It is a metaphysical love poem, specifically a subverted aubade.
It could be said that 'The Good Morrow' is mostly about various types of love.
What genre of poem is 'The Good Morrow'?
What type of poem is 'The Good Morrow'?
A subverted aubade.
When was 'The Good Morrow' published?
What is the structure used in 'The Good Morrow'?
What meters are used in 'The Good Morrow'?
Iambic pentameter and Iambic hexameter.
What rhyme scheme is used throughout 'The Good Morrow'?
What is the device used in 'The Good Morrow' that is a typical characteristic of metaphysical poems?
What are some literary devices used in 'The Good Morrow'?
Conceits, parallelism, chiasma, and alliteration.
What is a key theme used in 'The Good Morrow' and some of Donne's other poems?
The macrocosm and its relationship to the microcosm.
What is chiasmus?
Chiasmus is a rhetorical device. It features the reversing of a grammatical structure within one line.
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