The Good-Morrow

by John Donne

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Elements of Geography and Figures of Speech in John Donne's "The Good-Morrow"

Summary:

In John Donne's "The Good-Morrow," elements of geography include references to "sea-discoverers" and "new worlds," symbolizing the lovers' exploration of their new emotional landscape. Figures of speech in the poem include metaphysical conceits, such as comparing their love to a map that merges two hemispheres, emphasizing the unity and completeness of their relationship.

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What geographical references does John Donne make in "The Good-Morrow"?

John Donne's poem “The Good-Morrow” is a classic metaphysical poem in which the poet uses conceits (intricate, extended metaphors) to present his ideas. In this poem, several of Donne's conceits have to do with geography.

The speaker begins with some questions. He wonders what he and his beloved did until they found each other and fell in love. Perhaps they were not truly weaned yet but remained children until their love matured them. Perhaps they snored away in the Seven Sleepers' den. Here is our first geographic (and legendary) reference, for the Seven Sleepers' den points to a cave near Ephesus where seven young people escaped the persecution of Christians only to wake up about three hundred years later.

As the poem continues, the speaker asserts that his soul and the soul of his beloved are fully awake now. In fact, they are so intent upon each other that the little room they are in seems like a whole world. The speaker will leave discoveries of new worlds to sea explorers (another geographic hint), and he will let maps show these other worlds. There is only one world for him, the world he and his beloved are when they are together.

The final stanza presents further geographic imagery. The speaker and his beloved are like two perfect hemispheres that fit together without “sharp north” or “declining west.” They are flawlessly aligned, perhaps even better than the world itself.

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What figures of speech does Donne use in "The Good-Morrow"?

The figures of speech that John Donne uses in “The Good-Morrow” include metaphor, allusion, alliteration, consonance, and hyperbole. Metaphor is direct comparison of unlike things for effect. Allusion is a reference to a person, event, or literary work that is unrelated or tangential to the text. Alliteration is the repetition of an initial consonant sound; it is often combined with consonance, the repetition of a consonant sound within a word. Hyperbole is extreme exaggeration for effect.

Donne uses a conceit, or extended metaphor, of sleep, dreams, and waking to represent the love that the speaker and his beloved share. Time and space are important components of the poem and are developed through several metaphors. The speaker harkens back to the lovers’ figurative childhood to invoke their emotional innocence more than their actual age, mentioning that they were not “weaned.” The speaker refers to the “dream” that was the period when he thought he loved another, and to the lovers’ current awakened, spiritual state: “our waking souls.”

The speaker compares the room he and his loved one are in to the whole world—“love ... makes one little room an everywhere”—and then goes on to use global exploration to represent the emotional and physical experiences of love and sexual relations:

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

Allusion connects with the extended sleep and dream metaphor. The “Seven Sleepers’ den” in which the lovers “snorted” is a reference to the cave where seven young Christians hid from Emperor Decius of Rome, who shut them up inside. They slept for hundreds of years before awakening but miraculously did not die.

Alliteration is employed from the very start of the poem. In the first two lines, Donne uses the initial w sound, including for the “we” who are the poem’s subjects: along with “we” (used twice) are “wonder,” “what,” “were,” and “weaned.”

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?

The next two lines make extensive use of the initial s sound, which also is used as consonance in “pleasures” and “Sleepers.” The d of “den” is picked up in the stanza’s last line, in the important words “desire” and “dream.”

The speaker has a very high opinion of the intensity and durability of their love. In the last line, he uses hyberbole to express the idea that their love cannot die:

thou and I
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.

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What figures of speech does Donne use in "The Good-Morrow"?

This poem is a slow read, notably because of the lack of enjambment. If you examine the ends of the lines, you'll find a hard stop at almost every line break. Additionally, the poem contains significant use of caesura, which is an intentional pause within a line itself. Consider all the times the punctuation slows down the reader's progress just in this section:

'Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, 'twas but a dream of thee. (Punctuation bolded for emphasis)

These intentional efforts to pause and go slowly reflect the tone of the speaker. He wants to convince his beloved that the love they share is of paramount significance to him. In fact, he believes that they are "two ... hemispheres," forming a complete circle only when they are joined.

The speaker also employs rhetorical questioning, asking "I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I / Did, till we loved?" Of course, he really isn't expecting an answer here. The question reinforces the great strength of his love; he can't even recall a life before this woman.

Alliteration is used throughout the poem. One example is here:

Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?

The repetition of the s sound here is reminiscent of the whispers of lovers as they lie in bed, awaiting sleep. This is also an example of allusion, a reference to a Catholic tale about a group of Christian children who were walled up alive by their emperor; instead of dying, they were supposedly found alive and well nearly two hundred years later. This example of allusion contributes to the mystical feeling the speaker attributes to the love he shares with his beloved.

The poem also uses an example of chiasmus, which is when grammatical constructs are repeated in reverse order:

My face in thine eye, thine in mine ...

This structure mirrors the reflective nature of the two lovers as they gaze into each other's eyes.

Together, these devices contribute to a highly intimate tone that praises the incredible love between the speaker and his beloved.

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