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Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Sun Rising by John Donne

Literary Analysis (Summary)

The Sun Rising by John Donne is a metaphysical poem written in dramatic monologue. It’s based on conceit. Conceit, in literature, is an elaborate metaphor in which the poet depicts an imaginative image, especially for comparison. This could be seen in this poem as the poet-persona compares the sun with love, with the intention of undermining the power of the sun and bolstering love. In other words, he raises the power of love above the sun.

The setting of the poem is a room occupied by two lovers who had overslept till daybreak.  They are woken up from their sleep in the morning by the beam of the sun that cuts through their window to announce the day: “Why dost thou thus/ Through windows and through curtains call on us?” (Line 2 & 3) Irked by the intrusion of the sun into their romantic engagement, the lover-persona berates the sun for meddling into his privacy with his mistress, while reveling in her comfort. From that, the poem begins as the lover aggressively calls the sun “busy old fool, unruly sun” (Line 1).

The lover sees the intrusion of the sun as more of a disturbance than a wake-up call to usher in a new day: “Thy beams, so reverend and strong” (Line 11). As a result, the lover begrudges the sun and its significance in human existence. He downplays its power to the pleasure of his listening mistress.

It is widely known that the sun is beautiful and useful. It provides the earth with vast amount of energy every day. It lights our day and provides energy for life. This energy warms our day. So, the sun is venerated by all. That informs why the sun is worshipped in some climes.

All those attributes of the sun are being downplayed in this poem by the lover because of its interference into his romantic affair. Until the end of the poem, the lover diminishes and castigates the sun as if it were not significant as people think it is.
Since the sun regulates the time of the day, the lover wonders why it must also regulate lover’s season: “Must to thy motions lovers’ season run?” (Line 4). He sees the beam of light of the rising sun cutting through his window early in the morning while relishing in the pleasure of his mistress as unjustified intrusion with the intention of regulating the time he spends with her woman.

Without an iota of respect, the poet-speaker addresses the sun rudely as a “saucy pedantic wretch” (Line 5). Instead of meddling into lovers’ affairs, he counsels the sun to engage in other meaning ventures like scolding late school boys and displeased apprentices to be faithful to their masters: “…go chide/ Late schoolboys and sour prentices” (Line 5 & 6). The sun is also advised to go to various palaces to tell court huntsmen to guide the king while hunting, which was one of the hobbies of King James 1. “Go tell court huntsmen that the King will ride/ Call country ants to harvest offices” (Line 7-8).

This purposeful devaluation of the sun by the lover is aimed at portraying love as the most important phenomenon in the world. Unlike the sun, love doesn’t dictate time or season: “Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime/ Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time” (Line 9 & 10).

To further devaluate the sun in order to impress his mistress, the lover boasts to the sun that he “could eclipse and cloud them (the beam of the sun) with a wink/ But that I would not lose her sight so long” (Line 13 & 14). In addition to that, the poet asserts that his mistress’ eyes could blind that of the sun: “If her eyes have not blinded thine/ Look, and tomorrow late, tell me…” (Line 15 & 16). The lover’s mistress personifies love. In other words, the “she” and “her” referred to in the poem is love, the reason for which the lover abuses the sun. In the line quoted above, the lover implies that the eyes of love are everywhere such that it could overshadow that of the sun. Although the beam of the sun could be “so reverend and strong”, it cannot illuminate the future that is full of pleasure. Consequently, the lover asks the sun whether the West Indians that reside in Spice Islands are still mining precious metals: “Look, and tomorrow late, tell me/ Whether both the Indias of spice and mine/ Be where thou left’st them…” (Line 16-18). Since the sun doesn’t have these good qualities of love, the lover advises it to “lie here with me” on his bed where love abounds. Even the highly placed people in the society prefer love, as the lover tells the sun to “Ask for those kings whom thou saw’st yesterday/ And thou shalt hear, All here in one lay” (Line 19 & 20). They all lay on his bed where love flourishes. That is, they are on the side of love.

“She is all states…” (Line 21). Since “she”, in this poem symbolizes love, the lover is buttressing the fact that love is a universal icon. It is everywhere. This is an obvious attempt to downplay the universality and magnificence of the sun to humanity.

Towards the last stanza, the poet-speaker moves from an aggressive tone to a pleading one. He pleads with the sun to come to the side of love. The lover begins to court the attention of the sun, admitting how its worth has been demeaned. “Thou, sun, art half as happy as we/ In that the world’s contracted thus” (Line 25 & 26). At this juncture, he identifies the responsibility of the sun: “since thy duties be/ To warm the world” (Line 27 & 28) and the lover acknowledges that the sun has truly performed such a responsibility on them: “…that’s done in warming us” (Line 28).

Thereafter, the lover pleads with the sun to continue to perform its duties on him and his mistress: “Shine here to us” (Line 29). At last, the lover recognizes the universality of the sun: “and thou art everywhere” (Line 29). We can deduce here that the temperament of the lover has come down. He is no longer angry with the intrusion of the sun, as he is from the beginning of the poem.

Now, the lover admits the importance of the sun to the extent of pleading and inviting it to his room to make his bed its centre, apparently to warm him and his mistress: “This bed thy centre is” (Line 30), the same bed he has initially intended to force the sun to be: “or lie here with me” (Line 18). The lover also wants the beam of the sun to be entrapped in the sphere of his room: “these walls thy sphere” (Line 30), although he has condemned the beam for being “so reverend and strong” (Line 11).

Love is a universal icon.
The hypocrisy of men
The importance of the sun in humanity
Truth is undeniable
Change is the most constant thing
True love is unhidden

The poem is written in 3 stanzas of 10 lines each, making 30 lines in all. The rhyme scheme is abba cdcd ee. Most of the lines run into one another (enjambment). The author also uses rhetorical questions in lines 3, 4, and 12.
The tone of the poet is aggressive and insulting. Towards the end, he adopts a pleading tone. The speaker’s mood is that of unhappiness, as the sun interferes into his romantic engagement with her mistress.

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