Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 443

The theme of love in all its rich variety fascinated Donne, and he expressed this fascination in the range of attitudes and responses to love in his Songs and Sonnets. Heir to the Petrarchan code of the abject lover prostrate before his proud and unrelenting mistress, Donne parodies this tradition in poems such as “The Blossom” and “The Funeral.” He advocates promiscuity in lighthearted poems such as “The Indifferent” and writes a witty seduction poem in “The Flea.” He questions the constancy of men and women in such cynical poems as “Loves Usury” and “Womans Constancy,” and he portrays love that is both physical and spiritual in poems such as “The Good-Morrow,” “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” and “The Ecstasy.”

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“The Sun Rising,” although it does not explicitly blend body and soul, is nevertheless an argument for the grandeur of love that can combine spiritual and sexual love in perfect equality. Donne insists that the sun has no power over perfect love, reasoning that, since the lovers are the world, the sun will fulfill its duties by remaining in the bedroom; he outrageously asserts that “Nothing else is,” testifying to the superiority of a love that is “all alike.”

The power of hyperbole, the trope chosen by Donne to embody the separateness of love, lies in its forcible straining of the truth and its ability to go beyond truth to express an ideal. Hyperbole, however, can also overshoot its mark and become an empty affectation, undercutting the ideal it is intended to defend. Eminently aware of the dangers inherent in the hyperbole, Donne manages to push each hyperbole in this poem to its limit so that the mistress, the reader, and the sun are convinced of the unsurpassing beauty of the beloved and the sacredness of mutual love.

Another theme found in Donne’s love poetry is the juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane, mirroring secular love in divine concepts and expressing spiritual truths by linking them to secular experiences. In “The Sun Rising,” the speaker calls the sunbeams “reverend,” an adjective that alludes to a level higher than the physical; by analogy, the mistress also takes on more than physical characteristics. The lovers mirror in their mutual love the Incarnation, since in them the world and its material and spiritual values are contained: “All here in one bed lay.”

Ultimately, the poem asserts neither that earthly love mirrors heavenly love nor that mutual love that is both physical and spiritual is the only valid perspective on love. The serious portrayal of love in this poem is but part of the rich variety of human experiences that Donne offers readers of his poetry.

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