The Good-Morrow

by John Donne

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Critical interpretations and themes in "The Good-Morrow"


In "The Good-Morrow," critical interpretations often focus on themes of love and awakening. The poem explores the transformative power of true love, comparing the lovers' past immature relationships to their current profound connection. Themes of unity, spiritual awakening, and the merging of souls are prevalent, suggesting that true love transcends physical boundaries and elevates the lovers to a higher, more meaningful existence.

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What are critical interpretations of "The Good-Morrow"?

"The Good Morrow" is one of Donne's most famous poems, the subject of much literary interpretation and criticism. Its numerous allusions to seventeenth-century philosophical and scientific beliefs can be confusing to modern readers, but the poem itself develops a singular theme: the expression of romantic love between two lovers.

The title, translated to mean "the good morning," suggests the poem's setting. The narrator has awakened and speaks to his lover, after they have spent the night together. In the first stanza, he asks her questions about what their lives had been before they met. As the stanza ends, he concludes that all his previous experiences in love were insignificant:

If ever any beauty I did see,

Which I desired, and got, 'twas but a dream of thee.

In the second stanza, the narrator moves from the lovers' past to their present; he also moves from the physical, superficial aspects of their love to its deeper spiritual nature:

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,

Which watch not one another out of fear;

For love all love of other sights controls,

And makes one little room an everywhere.

Because their love is profound, with one soul loving the other, neither will be attracted to anyone or anything beyond themselves. "One little room" (any room they are in together) becomes "everywhere." Together, they become a world of their own.

The third stanza develops the idea of two melding into one entity, two "hemispheres" to be "mix'd equally." The concluding lines look to their future together:

If our two loves be one, or thou and I

Love so alike that none can slacken, none can die.

The narrator believes that the love they have found with each other, if preserved, will be immortal.

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What are the themes in "The Good-Morrow"?

There are two important themes in Donne's poem "The Good-Morrow." First, the poem suggests that one does not really grow up, or fully mature, until one falls in love. Before the speaker found true love with the person he addresses in the poem, he wonders if they were even "weaned till then," meaning that they might (figuratively) still have been breast-feeding, like infant children, until finding love. He claims that the only real "beauty" he knew before meeting his beloved was "but a dream" of her. Only now, having found one another, do their souls awaken and bid "good-morrow," or good morning, to the world; it is as though they were still asleep until they met and loved.

The second of the poem's themes is that nothing that is "mixed equally," or combined and brought together in such a powerful way, can really die. The speaker argues that his and his beloved's love for one another makes them as "one" and that, as long as their love continues in this way, it (and, so, they, in a way) cannot die. Because they "Love so alike" one another, love neither can nor will "slacken," and so it will exist for eternity. The speaker suggests that each partner has become the world to the other, as his eye reflects only her face, and her eye reflects only his face.

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