Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 441

The poem is one of contrasts: between gross physical lust and true love; between the poet’s profligate past and the lovers’ present spiritual awakening; between earthly worlds sought by sea discoverers and the spiritual world discovered by the lovers. These contrasts are brought out in the main themes of sight,...

(The entire section contains 441 words.)

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The poem is one of contrasts: between gross physical lust and true love; between the poet’s profligate past and the lovers’ present spiritual awakening; between earthly worlds sought by sea discoverers and the spiritual world discovered by the lovers. These contrasts are brought out in the main themes of sight, awakening from sleep, and earthly versus spiritual worlds.

Renaissance theories saw the sense of sight as central to the birth and continuance of love. In this poem, the sense of sight is seen in two opposing guises: the roving eye of the libertine, and the constant, steady gaze of mature “true” love.

This theme is introduced in the sixth line of the first stanza, where he refers to the attractive women whom he saw, desired, and “got”—a deliberately unsubtle expression. The triumphant opening to the second stanza brings forth the comment that the poet and his lady do not watch each other out of fear, since their true love controls “all love of other sights”—meaning, all interest in the outside world (turning “one little room into an everywhere”). In the third stanza, the lovers gaze into each other’s eyes so single-mindedly that they see each other’s reflections. Moreover, the steadiness of their gaze is reinforced by the true, plain hearts that “rest” in their faces—an image of openness and trust in each other.

The lovers’ lives before they met are discussed in terms of sleep and the unreality of dreams. They were as if asleep in the den of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. The pleasures he sought were “fancies,” every other woman “but a dream of thee.” These images throw into lively relief the radiant greeting that celebrates the lovers’ literal and metaphorical awakening into their mature love: “And now good-morrow to our waking souls.”

The theme of sea discoverers and map readers pursuing new worlds was topical in Donne’s time, as the boundaries of the old world were broken to include freshly discovered continents. Since the dominant contrast in the poem is between true love and false, it is possible that these explorers carry the additional connotation of sexual adventurers. However this may be, the world that the lovers are shutting out is one of high excitement and romance; how infinitely more attractive, then, must be the self-sufficient universe of their love, which is capable of rendering their small room “an everywhere.” Theirs is a perfect world, as opposed to the earthly spheres of the explorers. As such, it is not marred by the seasons’ inconstancy, and is of such a fine equal spiritual substance, that it can neither weaken nor die.

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