This is one of those poems that Donne wrote before he turned religious. It's goal is seduction. In short, the woman he is dreaming about awakens him. He tries to seduce her, but she refuses. He understands but is disappointed and a bit bitter; as she leaves, he says go back to sleep and dream of her again because otherwise he'd die. This poem is intensely sexual.
Let's take it stanza by stanza.
Dear love, for nothing less than thee
Would I have broke this happy dream;
It was a theme
For reason, much too strong for fantasy,
Therefore thou wak'd'st me wisely; yet
My dream thou brok'st not, but continued'st it.
Thou art so true that thoughts of thee suffice
To make dreams truths, and fables histories;
Enter these arms, for since thou thought'st it best,
Not to dream all my dream, let's act the rest.
I'll paraphrase: I wouldn't want to wake from this dream for anything less than you being here in real life. It was a dream I want in reality, so powerful that I don't want it to be just a dream. So, you were wise to wake me. But my dream didn't stop...your presence here means it can continue. You are so real that thoughts of you are enough to make dreams real, and to make unreal histories real. Come into my arms since you thought it best that I not finish my dream--let's do the rest in real life.
As lightning, or a taper's light,
Thine eyes, and not thy noise wak'd me;
Yet I thought thee
(For thou lovest truth) an angel, at first sight;
But when I saw thou sawest my heart,
And knew'st my thoughts, beyond an angel's art,
When thou knew'st what I dreamt, when thou knew'st when
Excess of joy would wake me, and cam'st then,
I must confess, it could not choose but be
Profane, to think thee any thing but thee.
I didn't even wake from a noise you made, but from the fire in your eyes alone. Until now, I thought you were an angel since I met you. But since you saw what was on my mind, that was more than an angel could or would do. You knew what I was dreaming about and could tell that my dream would soon wake me up, anyway (he speaks here of nocturnal emission). You came at that moment. Thus, it would be sacrilegious to think you an angel. (He's strongly hinting that she is the kind of woman to crawl into bed with him so he can "finish his dream.")
Coming and staying show'd thee, thee,
But rising makes me doubt, that now
Thou art not thou.
That love is weak where fear's as strong as he;
'Tis not all spirit, pure and brave,
If mixture it of fear, shame, honour have;
Perchance as torches, which must ready be,
Men light and put out, so thou deal'st with me;
Thou cam'st to kindle, goest to come; then I
Will dream that hope again, but else would die.
Since you came and stayed, I know you are for who you are, but since you're rising to leave--a lady wouldn't lose her honor by having sex before marriage, after all!--I think you aren't the sort of woman I thought you were. The kind of love that is crippled by fear is weak (he's pleading with her, here). Real love is "pure and brave" and is not mixed with fear, shame, or "honor." You're treating me like a torch that can be lit and put out at will (guilt trip much?). You came to turn me on ("kindle"), but you're leaving me now. So...I will go back to my dream and hope that someday you'll return and finish my dream for me. If I don't, I'll die (yeah...definitely a guilt trip).
was very sexually oriented. Even when he turned to religious poetry, it was heavily tinted with sexual metaphors. He had a one-track mind.