The poem is a love song written from the perspective of a woman who is in love. She is upset because after a night spent with her lover, he will now awaken and leave her because daylight has broken. He has responsibilities and must go to work. In the sixteenth century when the poet John Donne wrote, women did not go to work as men did. Therefore, it was difficult for the speaker in this poem to truly understand why her lover must go. She feels no overwhelming desire to get up and do her daily chores, so why does he? She would rather remain with him. In fact, she would like to stay together throughout the day and continue to embrace one another.
Her feelings are revealed in the first stanza. She acknowledges that it is daytime and asks if her lover will leave because of the daylight. She then asks why we should have to get up and leave one another because it is light outside.
She asks, “Did we lie down because ‘twas night?” In other words, she is saying that they did not lie down together because it was night. No, they fell into one another’s arms because they were in love. It was love that brought them together, she says, so it should keep them together even though it is daylight out.
She says that she loves him so much and has given him her heart and honor. She would not leave him to go to work, so why does he have to leave for work? That is the worst part about love—the parting.
She feels many types of men can love, including poor men, liars and immoral men. However, compared to these men, a man who is busy with work cannot enjoy love completely because he has other claims on his time. Ironically, the other men she cites can give themselves completely to love without worrying about being absent from their work because they are either so poor that they do not have meaningful employment, or are liars or immoral, and therefore feel no compunction about dodging their responsibility. The irony of loving an honest, hard-working man is that he must leave to fulfill his responsibility.
A man who is occupied with work and nevertheless makes love to a woman is committing an infraction that is as bad as if he were a married man cheating on his wife, according to the poem. She equates the time her lover spends away from her at work as cheating because she wants to spend all of her time with him.
In this three stanza poem, the speaker, a woman, addresses her lover. She complains that because it is daybreak he has to leave her to attend to his business. She believes that he should stay with her longer. She finds no good reason why the rising sun should take him away from her side.
The woman states that, were the tables turned, she would not betray her beloved's heart and honor by leaving for work. She states that she feels in competition with the man's job for his attention, and compares the work he has to do to another woman taking him from her.
The speaker uses a series of questions to make her point, asking her unresponsive lover in stanza one in four different ways why daylight means he must go. She then, in stanza three, asks
Must business thee [you] from hence remove?
The poem is relevant to today's busy world of work and realistic in its depiction of conflicting and competing priorities. Then, as now, many people had to work for a living, and this work could take them away from their loved ones.
The poem shows that Donne, an Anglican priest, understood what life was life was like for those who were not idle nobles living on inherited wealth, or courtiers with hours and hours to lavish on a love affair. Lovers in the real world must part, and this can cause tension and upset.
John Donne’s “Break of Day” is a love poem. The title implies the dawning of morning or the first appearance of the sun. The poem, broken into three 6-line stanzas, follows the rhyme scheme AABBCC - hence the rhymed couplets – and is written in iambic tetrameter (four ianbic patterns).
In the first stanza, the speaker laments that morning has arrived and that her lover must leave. She believes that love should be strong enough to hold the two together despite the coming of the morning. Donne writes, “Love, which in spite of darkness brought us hither, / Should in despite of light keep us together.” This first stanza defines the problem: the lovers must be separated. Donne uses imagery that highlights the light / dark dichotomy to demonstrate that this relationship can only exist in the dark, therefore implying that it is secret and clandestine.
In the second stanza, the speaker observes that the light “hath no tongue, but is all eye.” In other words, the light can spy on the lovers but cannot tell their secrets. If the light could speak, it would tell of the speaker’s happiness.
In the final stanza, the speaker grieves that business will pull her lover away. She argues that business, and the busy man, are the worst disease against love. Love can endure “The poor, the foul, the false,” but “not the busied man.” The poem ends with a simile. Here, Donne writes: “He which hath business, and makes love, doth do / Such wrong, as when a married man doth woo.” Hence, the man that has business and makes love does such a wrong that can be compared to a married man having an affair.
Dr. Samuel Johnson saw Donne, who lived in the late 16th and early 17th century as a "Metaphysical Poet.” In other words, Donne was connected with a group of poets who used art, history and religion as extended metaphor. In poetry, this is type of metaphor is known as a conceit. The Metaphysical Poets characteristically used unusual imagery and syntax in their poems. Donne converted from Catholicism to the Anglican church and was eventually forced by King James I to become an Anglican clergyman. Interestingly, “Break of Day” was set to music by three different composers contemporary to Donne: John Dowland, Orlando Gibbons and William Corkine.
The narrator in this poem is a woman, speaking as day breaks, and her lover is getting up to go. She is asking who cares if it's daylight. Since it wasn't the night that made them lie down together, why should they have to part now that it is day? She then goes on to say that if light could speak, it would testify that her partner holds her "love and honor," and she wouldn't let him (or them) get away if she had a choice. In the third stanza, she asks whether business must force him to leave, and goes on to complain that a busy man who want to make love is as bad as married man who is cheating on his wife because being busy interferes with love.
For a Power Point presentation, it might be nice to have some background images of the sun and the moon, or some other representations of darkness and light. Many are freely available for educational use on Google images.