The Good Morrow

The Good-Morrow

by John Donne

The Good Morrow Summary and Analysis

In Short

  • In “The Good-Morrow” the speaker wakes up in the morning with his beloved after the night’s love-making experience. He bids good morning to their ‘waking souls’.
  •  The lover feels that they were so far enjoying mere childish pleasures before they discovered the real joy of love.
  • The speaker even vows to ignore the outer world as their little room filled with love is now synonymous with the entire world.
  • He thinks that they can even defy death if they can continue to love each other equally.

The Good Morrow – Explanation

Stanza 1

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?

The poem starts on a dramatic note. The speaker asks his beloved several questions, or rather, rhetorical questions.

In the name of truth, he feels curious to know how they had spent their time before they fell in love. This expression contains both an eagerness to know and a feeling of surprise. This line also suggests the lover’s distinction between life without love and life with love. The latter is enormously more satisfying, mature and nobler than the former.

The speaker then asks if they were breastfeeding (not weaned) like a child till then. He suggests love’s inherent relationship with maturity just as unweaning or sucking with childish immaturity. To make it easy, according to the speaker, if you are not in love, you are not an adult or matured enough.

This kind of hypothesis indicates that the love the speaker is talking about is more physical than spiritual or emotional. When we take account of the title “The Good Morrow” in combination with these lines, it suggests that the speaker and his beloved have just waked up at dawn after a night of love-making experience. They now talk about the lasting impression it has left on their mind.

But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?

In lines 3 and 4, the speaker continues the same questioning. He thinks that before they made love they were enjoying the countryside pleasures such as a beautiful scenery. Their lives did not begin until they gave up these things. The lover here rebukes themselves for their contentment with childish sops.

There is an obvious sexual innuendo in the word ‘sucked’. Though the lover primarily refers to breastfeeding, an indication to the last night’s love-making session is not to be missed.

In the fourth line, the lover asks if they were sleeping (snorted) like the ‘Seven Sleepers’. This is a reference to a story regarding the seven early Christians of legend who took refuge in a cave to avoid persecution and slept for 200 years and woke up to find Christianity firmly established in the Roman empire.

The speaker thus suggests that they had been living as if they were in a long sleep and had no knowledge of love. The lover puts his life and the lives of those seven sleepers in juxtaposition. He compares his life with theirs and finds no dissimilarity.

’Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.

The final three lines of the stanza answer his previous questions. It was so; he thought it right that their life without love was childlike and a mere slumber. Compared to their present love experience, all other types of pleasures experienced before are mere fancies.

If ever any beautiful woman (beauty) the lover saw, desired to have and finally possessed, it was only a dream of his beloved. But now, that he has got her for the first time in reality, their life in the true sense has just begun.

In the final line of the stanza, the words ‘desired’ and ‘got’ (implies getting in bed) again suggests physical aspect of love.

Stanza 2

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;

Now that they have awakened from a state of slumber, their souls deserve a hearty welcome. So, the lover birds “good morrow” to each other. In the morning as the lovers ponder over their experience of last night’s physical love, they suddenly discover such a meaning and significance in it that their souls are stirred out of a deep slumber. They now feel the need for welcoming their awakened souls with a ‘good morning’.

In line 8, we see a shift in the form of love. In stanza 1, it was all about the bodily aspects of love. But now, with their love waking up souls, it it getting into the spiritual sphere and can be called ‘true’ love.

The lovers now look at each other not out of fear but with freedom and confidence. All forms of love, prior to their physical love last night, were fraught with fear. But now they have no restrictions between them.

This 9th line may also have an underlying reference to the Seven Sleepers who waked up from their years of sleep and they had no fear thereafter.

For love, all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.

As love has now become the master of their life, it alone decides what they should see and what they should not. Their present love is so self-sufficing that the lovers don’t find other sights enjoyable anymore. In fact, it brings in such joy and pleasure that it makes their fondness for external objects and scenes quite unnecessary.

Further, their love is so full of variety and diversions that it turns the little room of the lovers into an ‘everywhere’. Love, by virtue of its unique power, is capable of turning the little room of the lovers to be as various and spacious as the entire world.

The extract thus makes us acquainted with two of Donne’s unique metaphysical conceits – one is love restricting love of all other sights and the other is love making a little room as spacious as everywhere. This also stresses on lover’s power of contraction. Here the idea of love transforming the room into an entire world is quite similar to what we find in Donne’s another poem “The Sun Rising”.

Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,
Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.

The lover here seems quite uninterested in about anything other than their love. That he has this relationship now, the rest of the world means nothing to him.

The navigators (sea-discoverers) have already sailed out in search of new territories and they are discovering them. As the lovers feel highly content with the discovery of the satisfying nature of their own world of love, they should now pay little attention to the discovery of the ‘new worlds’ by navigators.

The same sense of assurance about their world of love make them remain cool and careless about the bringing out of maps showing more and more unknown areas of the world. In sheer disgust the lover challenges the cartographers to show to others their maps of “worlds on worlds” and to see whether even their large number of newly discovered worlds can outshine the lovers’ single world of love in quality and diversity.

Each lover has a world of his/her own. But their two separate worlds are so alike and homogenous that they get fused into one world. Their world of love, whether one or two, represents finely the material, intellectual and spiritual sides of love.

Stanza 3

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;

The final stanza of “The Good Morrow” begins with the speaker looking into his lover’s eyes. As the lovers look at each other, the can see their faces reflected in their eyes.

The hearts of the lovers are ‘true’ (i.e., sincere, faithful and honest) and plain (i.e., simple, innocent and undeceiving). The joyful and loving faces of the lovers clearly indicate that they have but innocent and honest hearts – hearts that can bring only blessings and no harm to the lovers.

Where can we find two better hemispheres,
Without sharp north, without declining west?

The speaker now asserts that the two half-worlds (hemispheres) they possess are better than the geographical ones. Without the biting cold of the north or the darkness that comes when the sun sets in the west, their hemispheres are flawless. The lovers are not subject to coldness or indifference or decay and degeneration.

Whatever dies, was not mixed equally;
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.

Line 21 speaks of how a lack of balance (not mixed equally) can cause death. It was actually a medieval concept in medicine that diseases and death were caused by an imbalance in bodily humour. That theory is presented here by the speaker to ascertain that they and their love are immortal.

The speaker assures his beloved that if their two loves are transformed into one love or they love each other with such equal ardour, there is no question of their ‘loves’ becoming less active at any time.

Or, if they can continue to love each other ‘so alike’ that no contradiction can get into their love, none of them will either decay or die.

The Good Morrow – Into Details

Publication

“The Good Morrow” is a well-known love-lyric poem written by John Donne. It was probably written in 1590s when he was a young man and recently married. It was published posthumously in 1633 in the collection “Songs and Sonnets”.

Background/Context

“The Good Morrow” is a love poem. When Donne penned this poem, he was then newly married. So, the lover here can be identified as the poet himself. Here the poet-lover shares a strong bond of relation between him and his mistress. He addresses the woman he loves throughout the poem. The experience of love fascinates and stimulates him to be engaged in a variety of forms. Physical gratification may lie at the core of many of his love poems, but they are more concerned with what love does to the mind than to the body. “The Good Morrow” is one such poem.

Setting

The speaker in the poem “The Good Morrow” shows disinterest to the outer world. Instead, he prefers a world of his own where he is engaged in an intimate love relationship. He thinks love in itself is an adventure as satisfying and rich as any explorer’s journey across the sea.

This is what the speaker says about love –

… makes one little room an everywhere.

So, understandably, the setting of the poem is a ‘little room’ where the two lovers are lying next to each other reflecting on the beauty and passion of their love.

Talking about the time period, the poem is set in the real time when it was written (1590s). The references of new discoveries of unknown parts of the world and charting of maps indicate to the age of discovery in which Donne lived.

Title

The title “The Good Morrow” is an old way of saying “Good Morning”. The speaker and his lover wake up in the morning from their nightly love experience. They now realize the lasting impression it has left on them. It has brought about a drastic change even to their souls. So, their souls are awakened and they now feel the real joy of love. They bid ‘good-morrow’ to their souls.

Again, “The Good-Morrow” means a fresh morning. It also suggests the following day, the upcoming future. So, John Donne, the poet is talking about freshness in his life. Prior to finding his love, he was in a slumber. That previous life was a waste. Now that he has got his beloved, it is a new beginning, a fresh morning. He wants to start afresh with new passion and hope.

Form and Language

By a simple look at the subject-matter, the poem “The Good-Morrow” is an aubade – a morning love song.

Again, it is a metaphysical poem. John Donne was the pioneer of the metaphysical school of poetry in 17th century England. These poems are characterised by highly intellectualized and complex thoughts and strange imageries and comparisons. Comparing the lovers to the hemispheres and trying to prove that the persons not in love are in slumbers or the lovers can not die if they love equally — all are comparatively complicated and rather strange logics introduced in the poem, making it a great example of metaphysical poem.

In its structure the poem is quite unusual and unique, and Donne is actually well-known for his disregard for traditional forms.

The poem consists of three stanzas of seven lines each – an odd number which is uncommon for English stanzas. Again, the stanzas are constructed in a way that they can almost be divided in two units – a quatrain (first four lines) and a tercet (last three lines). In the first four lines of each stanza, the poet develops an argument and in the next three lines he either sums it up or shifts the topic. This technique and even the rhyme scheme of the quatrain (ABAB) reminds us of Shakespearean sonnet form.

Being a subjective poem, the speaker expresses his thoughts and feelings from his point of view. The tone is assertive.

The language is simple but wrapped up in quite a complex syntax. Donne’s creative use of syntax and employment of parallel lines of persuasion make for fascinating read, add to the meaning and help deepen understanding.

Meter and Rhyme

“The Good Morrow” is a three-stanza poem with a rhyme scheme of ABABCCC in each stanza. This rhyme scheme along with the shift in topic makes each stanza almost divided into two parts – a quatrain rhyming ABAB and a tercet rhyming CCC.

The poem is only made more interesting by the varying pattern of the meter. Most of the lines have 10 syllables, but the last line of each stanza has 12. So, the first six lines of each stanza are in iambic pentameter while the last lines are written in iambic hexameter.

Iambic Pentameter lines

I won- | der, by | my troth, | what thou | and I
Did, till | we loved? | Were we | not weaned | till then?

Iambic Hexameter line

Which I | de- sired, | and got, | ’twas but | a dream | of thee.

The Good Morrow –Themes

Love as an Awakening

Donne’s poem “The Good Morrow” presents love as an awakening force. Love brings to him the realization that before they made love they were content with mere childish pleasures. It was as if their life was in a dormant state. Now that they have found love, they know the real joy of living.

Not only that, as the speaker ponders over their last night’s love-making session in the morning, he suddenly discovers such a meaning and significance in it that he feels their souls are awakened from a deep slumber. In fact, the poet here claims that erotic love can produce similar effects like a religious or spiritual enlightenment. Hence, he bids good morning to their ‘waking souls’ –

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,

There are people without love and according to the speaker they are not matured enough not to have made love yet. The experience of love brings fresh energy, realisations and hopes in life. This is completely a new beginning.

Love as a Self-sufficient Force

According to Donne in his poem “The Good-Morrow” love is a self-sufficient force. It controls the love of all other sights. You need not look at anything else if you have found love. What is more, love make the lover’s little room ‘an everywhere’. Your little chamber transforms into an entire world if your beloved is with you in your bedroom. Such is love’s unique power.

For love, all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.

In the concluding lines, Donne says that if the lovers can continue to love each other equally, they can defy even death. Though exaggerated, this only speaks of the self-sufficiency of love the poet wants to present here.

… thou and I
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.

The Good Morrow – Symbols

Morning

The lovers in “The Good-Morrow” wake up in the morning when the poem begins. But this morning is more meaningful than a mere sun-rising. The love-experience brings new joy, energy, realisations and hopes. It awakens their souls. Thus, the morning suggests freshness, a new beginning.

The speaker thinks that before their love, they were in a state of slumber. Now that they are in love, it is like the arrival of a new morning in their life.

Hearts

In the second line of the third stanza, the speaker says –

And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;

By ‘hearts’ he suggests the lovers’ true characters, their close emotional bond and understanding of each other. Heart is a physical organ and in the literal sense it cannot rest in the face. But it is told that our face reflects our hearts. It essentially means that we can see through a person’s thoughts and attitude in his/her face.

Little Room

The little room is like the whole world to the lovers. They find it so fulfilling that they can ignore the outside world. Literally speaking, a little room cannot be transformed into ‘an everywhere’. But this little room may signify something more meaningful. It could be poetry itself.

In poetry the lovers can find an escape from the mundane outer world. In poetry they can enjoy the bliss of love forever. This enables them to disregard the new discoveries made by the sea-surfers. Thus, thee ‘little room’ can be interpreted as a symbol in the poem “The Good Morrow”.

The Good Morrow – Literary Devices

Literary or poetic devices and figurative languages are used in a literary piece for various purposes like to achieve a rhythmic sound effect, to highlight a particular point, to draw out deeper meanings and so on. Donne’s “The Good Morrow” is rich in its use of poetic devices and figures of speech.

End-stopped lines

An end-stopped line is a line of verse that ends with a punctuation. In “The Good Morrow” most of the lines are end-stopped lines. For example –

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love, all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.

Enjambment

An enjambment is in use when a sentence in verse continues to the next line without pause. Examples of enjambments from the poem “The Good Morrow” are –

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?

If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.

Caesura

A caesura in poetry is a pause (with a comma, semicolon etc.) in the middle of a line.

Here are the first two lines of the poem for example –

I wonder, by my trothwhat thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?

Follow the commas and question mark in the middle of lines.

Allusion

An allusion is a brief and indirect reference to a person, place, thing or idea of historical, cultural, literary or political significance.

Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?

In the above line, the speaker alludes to the Biblical story of the Seven Sleepers to mean that the lovers were asleep like those seven sleepers before finding their love.

Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,

In this extract, the poet refers to the historical events of discoveries of new territories in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Assonance

Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words. A few examples are –

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I

Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,

Consonance

Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in nearby words. Here are some examples from the poem –

Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?

For love, all love of other sights controls,

Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.

Alliteration

Alliteration is a sub-category of consonance. It is the repetition of consonant sounds in the beginning (or, stressed syllables) of nearby words. Take some examples –

Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?

Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?

Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.

Anaphora

Anaphora is the repetition of a word or group of words in the beginning of neighbouring clauses.

Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,
Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.

In the above extract we find the repetition of ‘let’ three times.

Hyperbole

A hyperbole is an exaggerated statement.

And makes one little room an everywhere.

In the above line, the speaker says that their little room has transformed into an entire world. Though love’s fulfilling and satisfying experience can bring about such a feeling, it cannot certainly make the little room ‘an everywhere’ in the literal sense. This is an exaggeration to highlight the varied and satisfying nature of love.

If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.

Similarly, the poet uses another overstatement here when the lover says that by loving each other equally the lovers can defy death. Can one really live forever? Yes, they can, but that’s in people’s hearts, in arts (like in poetry) etc., but not in physical form.

Rhetorical Question

A rhetorical question is a question in form but not meant for an answer. It is rather to achieve a dramatic effect or to highlight a point.

The first four lines of “The Good Morrow” is a great example here –

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?

We find another instance of rhetorical question in the last stanza of the poem –

Where can we find two better hemispheres,
Without sharp north, without declining west?

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