Selected Poems by John Donne

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The structure of these stanzas is cleverly conceived: the initial quatrain builds up a strong impetus (assisted by the frequent use of strong trochaic rhythms); there is then the hiatus of a couplet rhyme using feminine endings. This interrupts the onward movement of the verse and leads into two very short (two syllable) lines that cleverly wrong-foot the reader. The whole stanza then concludes with a final line that rhymes with the previous two, to form a triplet. This complex stanza form (ABABCC[fem]DDD) mirrors the progression of sense in the poem, which appears to be building up to something momentous and then falters in an anticlimax.

The Sunne Rising

The core of this poem is the suitably terse line from stanza three, ‘Nothing else is.’ The theme of oneness in The Good-Morrow is here taken to a further extreme: not only do the two lovers create an everywhere – they are everything too. This assertion loses none of its force when the speaker ironically allows a semi-real existence to the external world in his next breath:

Princes do but play us; compar’d to this,
All honour’s mimic; all wealth alchemy.

Though the speaker grants that such things may have a tenuous existence, they are merely a shadow or echo acting out the essential reality of the bedroom. In fact, by the end of the poem, the bedroom has become the universe; the central position of the Earth in the Ptolemaic astronomical system being amusingly ascribed to the bed .

The Sun Rising is therefore thematically related to The Good-Morrow and it uses similar imagery, but it differs in the almost complete absence of anything mystical or metaphysical. There is no mention of souls uniting, but an openly sexual triumphalism, unmistakable in the imagery of princes subduing female territories. There is a domineering and masculine imperialism in the speaker’s references to the East and West Indies, which does not sit easily with ideas of sexual conquest to modern ears.

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John Donne