The Sun Rising

by John Donne

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The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 510

“The Sun Rising” is a lyric poem divided into three stanzas of ten lines each. Each stanza is further divided into two quatrains, respectively rhyming abba and cddc, and a couplet rhyming ee. The title, “The Sun Rising,” suggests an aubade, a song sung by lovers upon parting at morning; John Donne, however, renders a parody of the tender love songs written for such occasions. Parting from his beloved is the last thing the speaker of the poem desires to do. Moreover, the title allows for a physical image of the sun actually getting out of bed, an action that the lovers refuse to follow.

In this poem, Donne uses both personification—figurative use of language in which human qualities or feelings are attributed to nonhuman things—and apostrophe—a figure of speech in which a personification is addressed—when the poem’s speaker addresses the sun in all three stanzas. The persona or speaker in this poem is the lover who argues with the sun about the power of love to exist outside time and space.

In the first stanza, the speaker irreverently rebukes the sun, whom he calls a “busy old fool” and a “saucy pedantic wretch” for daring to disturb the lovers as if they were mere “schoolboys” or “sour prentices.” Donne’s allusion to King James I’s passion for early hunting outings (line 7) is often used for dating this poem after 1603, the date of James’s ascension to the throne of England. The stanza ends with the lover claiming, in the couplet, that perfect love is not bound to the progression of time.

The second stanza begins with an apparent reversal of tone. The lover seems to flatter the sun when he exclaims, “Thy beams, so reverend, and strong.” This statement is undercut and reversed in the next lines, however, by the lover’s claims that he can obliterate the sun by merely closing his eyes and that his mistress’ eyes can blind even the sun’s brilliance. He tells the sun to make its appointed daily journey around the earth and discover that all the wealth and power the world has to offer are contained in the bed where the two lovers are resting. (Writing in the seventeenth century, Donne knew quite well that the sun does not make a daily revolution around the earth but uses the image for the sake of the argument.)

The last stanza continues the outrageous qualities that the lover claims for the love between him and his mistress. The two become all states and all rulers, while “Nothing else is.” The speaker then changes his apparent dismissal of the sun in the first stanza and invites the sun to join the lovers in the bedroom, arguing that the duties of the sun to warm the world are fulfilled by warming them. The invitation gathers the force of a mild command in the couplet, making the reversal from the opening stanza complete: “Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;/ This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.”

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 573

The power of Donne’s poetic voice is characterized by his dramatic monologue and intensified by his use of the present tense. His approach in “The Sun Rising” illustrates the immediacy that such a voice creates. His speaker (the lover) and his addressee (the sun) are strongly characterized; the present tense allows the reader to experience a progressive development of the speaker’s claims and arguments. The inclusion of such mundane things as curtains and beds and the juxtaposition of schoolboys and kings create a strong scene.

The claims that Donne makes for the exclusiveness of love in “The Sun Rising” are created by his expert manipulation of hyperbole, the trope of exaggeration. In the first stanza, the lover elevates mutual love to dimensions beyond the confines of time, while simultaneously dismissing hours, days, even seasons, as mere “rags of time.” In the second stanza, the hyperbolic assertions gather force as the lover piles his exaggerations in quick succession; the mistress’ eyes are more brilliant than the sun’s beams; both Indias—one is not enough—are contained in her; and the bed sleeps all the world’s kings and their wealth.

Having reached the near pinnacle of hyperbolic manipulation in the second stanza, Donne makes his most exuberant but logical leap in hyperbolic argument in the third stanza: “Nothing else is.” This affirmation of love independent of the world obliterates anything and anybody but the lovers in their bed and bedroom, which now has attained cosmic dimension as well as cosmic significance.

In conjunction with his manipulation of hyperbole, Donne uses meter and intricate syntactical arrangements to convey the superiority of the love portrayed in “The Sun Rising.” He employs an uneven syllable count in his lines by varying his line length from short, pithy lines with four syllables to longer iambic pentameter lines. His manipulations of the syllable count allow Donne to operate with different levels of stress and syntactical arrangement. The terse four-syllable lines create a forceful tension in each stanza.

In the first and second stanzas, these short lines are questions addressed to the sun. In the first stanza, “Why dost thou thus” follows its subject—the sun—but Donne delays its completion by syntactical inversion so that the sun literally has to push through windows and curtains, the intervening adverbial phrases, to find its verb. The lovers are not only protected by the physical presence of windows and the like but also isolated by syntax.

In the second stanza, Donne reverses the syntactical arrangement, starting with the direct object instead of the subject, although the reader does not know that until the short second line is read. Whereas in the first stanza the short line questions the sun’s authority, in the second stanza this line denies the sun its authority.

The force of the short line is especially immediate in the third stanza as it embodies the ultimate hyperbolic claim of the separateness of love: “Nothing else is.” The power of carefully chosen syntactical structure in line 1 of the third stanza illustrates the relevance of such syntax to the understanding of the poem and affirms that attention to such matters can assist the reader to a heightened appreciation of the poem. By syntactical placement of “She” at the beginning of the line and “I” at the end, Donne traps the whole world and its power structure between the lovers: “She is all states, and all princes, I.”

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