“The Good-Morrow” is a poem of twenty-one lines divided into three stanzas. The poet addresses the woman he loves as they awaken after having spent the night together.
The poem begins with a direct question from the poet to the woman. Deliberately exaggerating, the poet expresses his conviction that their lives only began when they fell in love. Before, they were mere babies at their mothers’ breasts or were indulging in childish “country pleasures.” This phrase had a double edge in John Donne’s time: it would have been understood as a reference to gross sexual gratification. Perhaps, the poet continues, they were asleep in the Seven Sleepers’ den (referring to an ancient Syrian legend in which persecuted Christians slept for several hundred years in a cave near Ephesus). He asserts that compared with their true love (“this”), all past pleasures have been merely “fancies,” and the women he “desir’d, and got” were only a “dream” of this one woman.
The second stanza opens with a triumphant greeting to their souls as they awaken into a constant, trusting love. They have no need to keep a jealous eye on each other because their love subdues the desire to look for other partners; it is so complete, so self-sufficient, that it “makes one little room, an everywhere.”
The emphasis moves to the external world that the lovers have abandoned for each other. The poet contrasts the physical worlds sought by explorers and map readers with the spiritual world of the lovers. When he asserts that each of them is a world in itself, he is referring to the Elizabethan concept of microcosm and macrocosm: the view that every man and woman is a miniature universe, with the same qualities and components as the greater universe.
In the third stanza, the poet’s attention focuses even more intimately on himself and the beloved. As they gaze into each other’s eyes, each sees a tiny image of the other reflected in the lover’s eye, and “true plain hearts” that “in the faces rest.” Where, the poet asks, could they find “two better hemispheres”—referring to their faces and to the two lovers themselves as two halves of one world. Their love is spiritual, not earthly, and so is not subject to coldness (“sharp North”) or decrease (“declining West”).
The concept behind the fifth line is that the earthly sphere is composed of heterogeneous substances which are unstable, ever-changing, and therefore mortal. The heavenly sphere is formed of homogeneous spiritual substance, which is pure and eternal. Sensual love is earthly and subject to change and decay, whereas the love enjoyed by the poet and his beloved is “equal,” a state of oneness, a pure and changeless union.
Donne is considered an innovator in the area of love poetry. The Renaissance style relied heavily upon convention: the predictable nature of the love affair, the idealized qualities and appearance of the woman, the subservient role of the poet, and the courtly language in which he addressed the woman. Donne broke all these conventions. He shocked readers of his century and the next with his direct, dramatic style, his colloquial language, his open approach to physical aspects of love, and his use of the broken rhythms of real speech. He was also criticized for perplexing the women in his poems (traditionally addressed in terms of uncomplicated emotion) with complex metaphysical matters.
Donne begins “The Good-Morrow” with a typically dramatic opening—no less than three insistent questions to the woman, in the style of everyday speech. The entire poem has the air of being part of an intimate conversation which keeps one always conscious of the immediate presence of the woman. The language and imagery of the poem, however, are deliberately exaggerated, with a strong element of paradox.
(The entire section contains 966 words.)
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