The Good-Morrow

by John Donne
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Last Updated on August 2, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 503

“The Good-Morrow,” written by English metaphysical poet John Donne, was first published in Donne’s collection Songs and Sonnets in 1663. Although it is often classified as a sonnet, the poem breaks with the sonnet’s usual structure; it consists of three stanzas of seven lines each, for a total of twenty-one lines rather than the sonnet’s traditional fourteen. For Donne, the term “sonnet” simply referred to a love poem.

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In “The Good-Morrow,” Donne uses a metaphor to compare the speaker and his lover to explorers. However, they do not explore the natural world around them; instead, they explore one another, it seems, both emotionally and sexually. The speaker says in the second stanza,

Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,
Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.

Thus, the speaker feels no need to go sailing for adventure or to discover new worlds to put on the map for others to follow. Instead, he only wants to explore one world—the world of his beloved—and to be explored by her. In the first stanza, he rather explicitly addresses the sexual encounters he has had prior to meeting his beloved, describing the “beauty” to which he was attracted then, and which he claims that he “got,” but which he realizes now only to be a poor shadow of the beauty he would later find in his beloved. The first stanza also contains an allusion to the medieval legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, in the line “Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?” With this reference, the speaker questions whether he and his lover were merely asleep and dreaming before they met, and he concludes that it was so. He recognizes the difference between that childish dream of lust and his current love, indicating that he is aware now of his multifaceted attraction to his lover: it is not merely sexual, though that is part of it. She is his to explore in every way, just as he is hers.

The speaker continues this theme of exploration into the third stanza as well when he compares himself and his lover to “two . . . hemispheres” that make up one world via another, related, metaphor. They are now twin halves of the same globe, having come together to become well and truly one: they are incomplete without the other and unite to form “one world,” as he said in the second stanza. They are equals, then: equals in exploration of one another’s emotions, intellects, bodies, and spirits, and equals in terms of the space they share in the relationship. In this way, they are “so alike” that neither would want to separate from this world, were it even possible for them to do so. Their commitment to and exploration of one another will prevent their love from ever perishing:

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Latest answer posted July 13, 2016, 2:41 pm (UTC)

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If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.

The Poem

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 456

“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.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 510

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.

For example, love is said to make one small room an everywhere—an image which can be grasped intuitively but which outrages logic. Notice also that the speech rhythms in this phrase work against the basic iambic pattern of a weak stress followed by a strong one: two consecutive strong stresses (a metrical unit called a spondee) fall on the first two syllables of “one little.” The effect of this heavy pair of stresses is to undercut the diminution implied by both these words—an effect that is driven home by the most powerful stress of the line, on the first syllable of “everywhere.” Another spondee throws into strong relief the first two words of the phrase “true plain hearts”—again, an idea the poet wants to emphasize.

Donne uses strong and weak stresses, and strong and weak verb constructions, to emphasize his thematic contrasts. The “sea-discoverers” and map readers are dismissed in the weak constructions of “Let [them]have gone,/ Let [them]have shown,” where the verbs, weakly stressed and in the indirect subjunctive form, allow the ends of the lines to tail off. The threefold repetition of “worlds” also makes the whole adventuring enterprise seem wearisome. In contrast, the lovers “possess” their world—a strong, heavily stressed verb followed by a weighty pause after “world.”

The language, line structures, and meter describing the perfection of the lovers’ relationship is also worthy of note. The unmusical rhythm and language of “Which I desir’d, and got,” contrasts strongly with the lilting rhythm and smooth assonance of “’twas but a dream of thee.” The first and fourth lines of the last stanza are divided into two halves, one in perfect symmetrical balance with the other, reflecting the constant, even nature of the relationship described. The structure of these lines reflects the important ideas of the third line, where the lovers are described as two perfect hemispheres making one sphere, and the fifth line, which asserts that “Whatever dies, was not mix’d equally.”

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