In poem "The Sunne Rising", how does Donne enact a witty yet, veiled challenge to social hierarchy in his time and exert his rights as an individual?

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drsuman | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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"The Sunne Rising' has usually been regarded in liberal humanist reading as a poem celebrating the triumph of love over all material wealth and even over time symbolised by the sun. Yet, another dimension of the poem is missing in such an interpretation. Donne, as biographical evidence suggests, was inherently a rebel against authority, particularly of the oppressive shackles of the social order. His refusal to obey the diktats of the social order and his subversion of the social hierarchy is tacitly but pointedly suggested in this poem. This is most evident from the first stanza of the poem. The speaker exhorts the sun to go and chide unwilling late schoolboys and apprentices who are terribly reluctant to join their works. Young children being forced to early morning school symbolize subjugation to authority. So also is the case with the "sour apprentices" dillydallying with their work which too is strictly conditioned by timely attendance. The sun, symbolizing time, is an essential agent of that authority which conditions human work by time and strict punctual notions of attendance. The speaker avers that if the sun has any power, it is upon those who have to obey the laws of society fixed by authority. He also mentions country ants or agricultural labourers who, too, must obey the laws of time- bound activity. Finally comes the clinching line: " Go tell court hunsmen that the king will ride". This alludes to the contemporary sport and custom of the highest rung of society where the king took major interest in early morning hunting expeditions and he is obviously to be followed by his sycophants who are no less than members of the king's court. Thus if anyone who are within the orbit of the authority of the sun are either the common people or the those belonging to the highest scale of the social hierarchy. The lover/speaker defies this hierarchy to state that love is free of all sorts of authoritative rules, systems and disciplines and that the individual lover is free to subvert all forms of social governance. The expression "the king will ride", as J B Leishman suggests refers to King James' obsession for pleasure hunts which drew a lot of flak in 1603, when the poem was written.

All the above observation is further substantiated by the final assertion of the lover/speaker that all the material wealth and all the worldy powers of kings and princes combined together are concentrated in the world of love and this world, as Donne wrote in "The Good Morrow" is beyond death and decline.

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