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John Donne’s poem “The Good Morrow” illustrates passion and wit – two common features of “metaphysical” poetry – in various ways.
“Wit,” for Donne and his contemporaries, meant not simply intellectual or verbal cleverness but also the capacity to think seriously. (“Wit” was often understood as a synonym for “reason.”)
“The Good Morrow” illustrates all these meanings of “wit” while also emphasizing passion, or deeply felt emotion.
Several examples of wit or cleverness occur in the first stanza of the poem. For instance, the speaker may be offering an erotic play on words when he uses the term “country” pleasures (3). He is certainly being clever when he compares the two lovers to the biblical “Seven Sleepers” (4), but he is also, by using this biblical allusion, showing another kind of wit: intelligence and wide reading, including familiarity with a very important text.
Other examples of wit appear in stanza two, particularly when the speaker declares that true love can make one “little room an everywhere” (11). This phrase illustrates one of Donne’s favorite forms of wit: his use of paradoxes (phrases which seem contradictory from one perspective but which seem true from another). Another example of a witty paradox appears in line 20, in which the speaker suggests that two loves can somehow be “one” love:
If our two loves be one, or thou and I
Love so alike that none can slacken
Passion – in the sense of deep love, rather than uncontrolled emotion – is visible throughout the poem. Thus, the speaker can be called passionate in his admiration of his beloved’s “beauty” (6), but it is also clear that he values her for much more than mere physical attractiveness. This deeper love is implied when he exclaims “good morrow” to their “waking souls” (8), not merely to their waking bodies.
The poem’s tone might also be called passionate when the speaker breezily dismisses all the other, implicitly unimportant activities in which he and his beloved might engage (12-13).
However, perhaps the most tenderly passionate moment in the poem occurs in lines 15-16, where the speaker says that “My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears, / and true, plain hearts do in the faces rest.” These lines suggest physical, emotional, and even spiritual closeness between the speaker and the woman he obviously loves. By the end of the poem, the speaker has demonstrated both his wit and his passion.
For an extremely well annotated edition of Donne’s poetry, see
Robin Robbins, ed. The Complete Poems of John Donne. New York: Pearson, 2010.
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