The Sun Rising by John Donne

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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.”

“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...

(The entire section is 443 words.)