You could also interpret this poem as a commentary on the way we present ourselves to others; as we develop relationships we are casting ourselves in shadow, hiding our true selves from the other person and presenting that version of ourselves that we want them to see, out of fear of rejection. But as the relationship grows we cast aside this shadow that trails behind us and allow the other person to see us as we truly are; the other person, likewise, reveals themselves in this noon sun, the height of the relationship. But,
Except our loves at this noon stay,
We shall new shadows make the other way.
As the first were made to blind
Others, these which come behind
Will work upon ourselves, and blind our eyes.
Unless the two people manage to hold their love at this high noon, new shadows will appear, this time in the opposite direction. And these shadows, instead of veiling one person’s true self from the other, will become inverted, and each of them begin to withhold secrets and harbor negativity that they do not want to other to see, harkening the end of the relationship – the night. Thus love is destined to wane, and once we have revealed ourselves in honesty to a partner, the next time the truth is concealed is the beginning of an inevitable decline.
"A Lecture Upon the Shadow" is a poem about love and, somewhat metaphorically, about vision. Using an extended analogy (a conceit), Donne's poem compares the vision of lovers (and the delusions of lovers) to a situation of light and shadow wherein sight is only unhindered at noon, when the light of the sun produces no shadow.
The meaning of the poem seems to be that when love reaches maturity it allows lovers to see one another clearly, without illusion (and so free from wishful thinking, from erroneous dreaming and fill-in-the-blanks romanticizing) that characterizes immature love. When the maturity of love fades (or the strength of love fades), the lovers' vision again becomes compromised.
Only when love is at its pinnacle does it produce clarity of sight.
But, now the sun is just above our head,We do those shadows tread,And to brave clearness all things are reduc'd.
True love then means that lovers are both willing and capable to love the other person for who they are and to leave off any creative tricks of vision--to see the beloved as he or she truly is.
Love takes on the functional role of providing one with the power to see clearly, although this function exists in a somewhat circular context. Love provides the courage to see without illusion but the lack of illusion is also the definitive characteristic of true, honest love.
When love wanes to a point of lesser power (anything less than full strength), it ceases to provide the courage of honesty and ceases to clarify.
But oh, love's day is short, if love decay.Love is a growing, or full constant light,And his first minute, after noon, is night.