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STANZA ONE: The poem opens with the male speaker wondering by his “troth” (1) – that is, his good faith – what he and his beloved did before they loved. In other words, he wonders what their lives were like before they met and fell in love. He wonders, in lines 2-3, whether, in their earlier lives, they not fully mature (“not weaned” ) and whether they took pleasure in childish, simple things (3). Or he wonders if they snored, like the famous Biblical seven sleepers, who slept for 187 years (4). He then suddenly says that all these speculations must be true, because he now realizes that all the earlier pleasures he enjoyed, before he fell in love, were merely “fancies” – that is, insubstantial, imaginary fantasies, not real, substantive pleasure (5). He tells his beloved that if, in the past, there was any beauty that he desired and “got,” that beauty was merely a dream – a prophecy, a foreshadowing – of his beloved (6-7). These lines are especially significant, because the word “beauty” in line 6 can refer to any beautiful thing, but it can also refer to a beautiful woman. In the latter case, the word “got” can suggest sexual possession. In other words, the speaker may be admitting to his beloved that he has had sex with previous women. Such an admission implies that he trusts his beloved not to be angry or jealous. He trusts the depth of her love for him.
STANZA TWO: The speaker proclaims “good morrow” (or “good morning”) to their “waking souls” (8). This phrasing may imply that they are presently in bed together, which in turn may imply that they are married, since premarital sex was greatly criticized in Donne’s era. In any case, the speaker suggests that they have awakened spiritually (not just physically). His emphasis on their “souls” suggests that this poem celebrates true spiritual love, not mere sexual desire. In line 9 the speaker suggests that he and his beloved do not feel jealousy (a claim relevant to the use of the word “got” in line 7). In lines 10-11 he proclaims that when people are truly in love, their love affects the ways they see everything. True love can make one little room seem enormous, especially if that little room contains the beloved. In lines 12-14, the speaker invites anyone who wants to explore or map the world to do so; he says that he and his beloved, instead, can be happy in the little microcosm of their own loving relationship.
STANZA THREE: In lines 15-16, the speaker proclaims that he can see his own face reflected in his beloved’s eyes when he looks closely into them, just as she can see her own face reflected in his eyes. Their eyes reveal their true love for one another. Their love resembles a perfect sphere (a standard symbol of spiritual perfection). Anything that dies was made up of physical elements insufficiently “mixed” and thus bound to fall apart. Finally, the speaker tells his beloved that “If” (a crucial word) they can maintain their present loving, spiritual union of souls, their love will never die (20-21).
For a fine edition of Donne’s poems, see Theodore Redpath, ed., The Songs and Sonets of John Donne [sic], 2nd ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009).
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