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A Short Analysis of John Donne’s ‘The Good-


Morrow’

JUL 29
Posted by interestingliterature
A reading of a classic Donne poem

‘I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I / Did, till we loved?’ With these frank and informal
words, John Donne (1572-1631) (https://interestingliterature.com/2016/02/01/five-fascinating-
facts-about-john-donne/) begins one of his most remarkable poems, a poem often associated –
as is much of Donne’s work – with the Metaphysical ‘school’ of English poets. But what is ‘The
Good-Morrow’ actually about? In this post, we offer some notes towards an analysis of
Donne’s ‘The Good-Morrow’ in terms of its language, meaning, and themes.

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?
’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.

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.
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.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,


And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres,
Without sharp north, without declining west?
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.

A brief summary of Donne’s poem might be helpful to start with. In the first stanza, he
addresses his beloved and asks her to cast her mind back to before they were lovers. What
was their existence like before they met and loved each other? Were they little more than
babies, like infants who are not yet weaned off their mother’s breast? (‘Country pleasures’ has
the same punning suggestion it carries in Shakespeare’s plays, such as Hamlet’s ‘country

(https://interestingliterature.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/donne1.jpg)matters’: we are invited


to concentrate on the first syllable of ‘country’.) Or, if not like children, were the two of them –
the poet and his lover – asleep before they met? (‘Snorted’ here means ‘snored’.) Donne
answers his own (rhetorical) questions by saying yes: before they met each other, any
pleasures they enjoyed, or thought they enjoyed, were mere a mere shadow of the joy they
now feel in each other’s company.

In the second stanza, Donne bids good morning, or good day (hence ‘The Good-Morrow’) to his
and his lover’s souls, now waking from their ‘dream’ and experiencing real love. They look at
each other, but not through fear or jealousy, but because they like to look at each other.
Indeed, the sight of each other far exceeds any fondness they have for other pleasant sights,
and the bedroom where they spend their time (they are newly loved up, after all!) has become
their world: the real world beyond their bedroom is of little interest to them. Men may voyage
across the sea to other lands, and men may even chart the locations of other worlds beyond
our own – that is of no concern to us, Donne tells his lover. We don’t need those other worlds,
because our bodies are a world in themselves, ready for the other to explore. This is what
Donne means by ‘worlds on worlds’ and ‘each hath one, and is one’: he and his lover, he urges,
should enjoy a bit of ‘world-on-world action’. His body is a new world for his beloved to
explore, and her body is a world for him to possess and explore.

In the final stanza, Donne zooms in even further from the bodies of the two lovebirds,
focusing on their eyes: he sees his face reflected in his lover’s eye, and her face appears in his
eyes (meaning not only that she sees herself reflected in Donne’s eyes, but also that as he turns
to face her she is in his line of vision). Their very hearts are exposed to each other, their
devotion to each other plain in their expressions. (The eyes never lie and all that.) Donne then
uses the metaphor of ‘hemispheres’ – half-worlds (worlds again!) – to convey the idea that she
is his ‘other half’ and he hers. But in fact, Donne argues, his and his lover’s ‘hemispheres’ are
better than the hemispheres that make up the Earth, since their love has no cold North Pole
and no ‘declining West’ (suggesting that the sun will never set on their love for each other).
Donne then throws in some alchemy for good measure, stating that ‘Whatever dies was not
mixed equally’ – although this line might also be read as a reference to the male and female
‘seed’, which, according to mainstream medical theory at the time, had to be equally mixed if
conception were to take place. Donne then concludes by saying that if their love for each other
is felt equally strongly on both sides, then their love is strong and cannot die.

Even summarising ‘The Good-Morrow’ becomes a task of annotation and discussion, but then
that’s so often the mark of a rich and complex poem. How should we interpret and analyse the
poem’s meaning? It’s clearly a celebration of young love and a very candid depiction of two
lovers sharing their bodies with each other. Like so
(https://interestingliterature.files.wordpress.com/2016/07/owc-john-donne-
major-works.jpe)many of Donne’s love poems, it takes us right into the
bedroom, ‘between the sheets’ (as Simon Schama put it in a BBC documentary
about John Donne) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXHuVGKJNWc). Most
poets stop short of bringing us into the bedroom with them. Donne wants us
right there between him and his beloved.

We’ll conclude this short introduction to, and analysis of, ‘The Good-Morrow’ with a few more
glosses which readers may find of interest. In the first stanza, Donne likens himself and his
lover to the Seven Sleepers, who were seven Christians sealed in a cave by the Roman
Emperor Decius (http://oca.org/saints/lives/2014/08/04/102195-7-holy-youths-seven-sleepers-of-
ephesus) – who had a penchant for persecuting Christians – in around the year AD 250. These
Christians reportedly slept for nearly 200 years before being woken up to find Christianity had
become a world religion. The point of Donne’s analogy is that the love he and his lover feel for
each other is like a new religion, that’s how devoted they are.

In the second stanza, Donne refers both to sea-travel to new worlds: the New World of the
Americas was just being explored and colonised at this time, by England and Spain, chiefly.
But Donne also suggests, when he writes of ‘maps to others’, that man is charting other worlds
too: when Donne was writing, the revolution in astronomy was just underway, and
Copernicus’ theory that the earth travelled around the sun (rather than vice versa) was being
explored by Johannes Kepler and, slightly later, Galileo. As the twentieth-century poet and
critic William Empson pointed out in ‘Donne the Space Man
(https://www.jstor.org/stable/4333766)’, John Donne was peculiarly interested in travelling to
other planets, and his poetry reflects this, making him unique among Elizabethan and
Jacobean poets.

This is yet another reason to revere him, and in this summary and analysis of ‘The Good-
Morrow’ we’ve tried to get across some of the richness and strangeness of Donne’s classic
poem. What do you make of ‘The Good-Morrow’?

If you’d like to explore more of John Donne’s remarkable work, the best edition of his writing
out there is, in our opinion, John Donne – The Major Works (Oxford World’s Classics)
(http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0199537941/ref=as_li_tl?
ie=UTF8&camp=1634&creative=6738&creativeASIN=0199537941&linkCode=as2&tag=interesliter
21). For more Metaphysical poetry, see our analysis of Marvell’s ‘The Definition of Love’
(https://interestingliterature.com/2016/08/01/a-short-analysis-of-andrew-marvells-the-
definition-of-love/). For more Renaissance poetry, read our discussion of Ben Jonson’s ‘On My
First Son’ (https://interestingliterature.com/2016/01/21/a-short-analysis-of-ben-jonsons-on-my-
first-sonne/). We’ve also compiled some tips for how to write a good English Literature essay
(https://interestingliterature.com/2015/01/12/how-to-write-a-good-english-essay/).
Image (top): John Donne (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:John_Donne_BBC_News.jpg),
public domain (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Template:PD-US).
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About interestingliterature

A blog dedicated to rooting out the interesting stuff about classic books and authors.
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Posted on July 29, 2016, in Literature and tagged Analysis, Classics, English Literature, John
Donne, Literary Criticism, Literature, Metaphysical Poetry, Poetry, Summary, The Good-
Morrow. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

Trackbacks 1

screamingnighthog | July 29, 2016 at 3:07 pm


Very interesting work here. This was the first thing I read today, and was a nice “kick start
” to the old grey matter.Very nicely done. :)

interestingliterature | July 29, 2016 at 3:12 pm


Thank you!

The Book Haven | July 29, 2016 at 4:51 pm


Excellent analysis. The Good-Morrow was one of the two metaphysical poems I read in
school (the other being To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell). While I prefer prose
works, I am quite fond of metaphysical school of poetry.

interestingliterature | July 29, 2016 at 5:40 pm


Thanks! We’re just working on an analysis of a Marvell poem at the moment – and ‘To
His Coy Mistress’ will follow. It’s a fabulous poem.

Bobby Fairfield | July 29, 2016 at 5:09 pm


Reblogged this on Recommended book and blog news, poetry and tarot inspiration and
commented:
An enjoyable and illuminating breakdown of one of the most loving and memorable love
poems by the undoubted master of the art, whose verses span the centuries without a hint
of staleness or decay

maureenjenner | August 3, 2016 at 11:08 am


Reblogged this on Musings of a Penpusher and commented:
Well worth stopping and reading the whole if you have time.
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