Analyzing a Poem “The Good-Morrow” by John Donne

October 30, 2021 by Essay Writer

When analyzing a work by John Donne it is important to remember that Donne was arguably one of the most influential poets of his time. It is imperative for readers to be aware that Donne’s use of complex metaphors and imagery was revolutionary and it takes a very close attention to detail to put the pieces of his poems together. This is especially the case in his poem “The Good-Morrow.” In this poem, the speaker is explaining to his lover the nature of their relationship. The speaker uses the first half of the poem to set the ground work for the long and detailed image in the second half of the poem at which point he uses a globe as a representation of the love that the two of them share in. Donne’s use of geographical imagery in this context emphasizes the duality of human nature in the unity of romantic love.

More specifically, the imagery shows that the unity between the poem’s lovers is both physical and spiritual. The first stanza of the poem introduces the physical aspect of the love shared between the speaker and his beloved. The speaker says to his beloved, “Were we not weaned till then? / But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?”[1] It is with these two rhetorical questions presented by the speaker that the necessity of the physical body in their love is established. The speaker then goes on to confirm that the answer to both of these questions is yes. What the speaker is implying is that before they formed their loving unity, they pursued only physical, and more specifically sexual, love because that was all they had known.

The lines also suggest that the two have already performed acts of physical love with one another through the use of sexual innuendos like “sucked on country pleasures.” In the conclusion of the first stanza the speaker says, “If ever any beauty I did see, / Which I desired, and got, ‘twas but a dream of thee.”[2] The stanza concludes with the image of sleep, which is physical act or state of being. The object of the speaker’s sleep or id to dream, and more specifically to dream of his lover. What the speaker is saying in these lines is that anyone that he met or had sexual relations with before her was not a true unity and therefore only served as a way of leading him to her. The implication of this claim made by the speaker is that it was the physical characteristics of human nature, whether it be immature sexual relations or the fact that he was “asleep” before he met her, that led him to his beloved.

The spiritual aspect of the lovers’ unity is touched upon briefly at the end of the first stanza before being more deeply explored in the second stanza. Previously I had discussed the last two lines of the first stanza where Donne provides imagery of dreams, which are a consequence of sleep. While the act of sleeping can be seen as something physical, the act of dreaming has more of a spiritual insinuation. The speaking is saying that while the physical part of the body is asleep (presumably after indulging is sexual pleasures) the spirit of the speaker is longing for a connection with the lover. In the opening line of the second stanza the speaker says, “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.”[3] The speaker begins by implying that he is no longer dreaming of his beloved, because now they are awake and their souls are joined. In this instance, the spiritual connecting of the lovers is being represented by their souls.

After introducing the spiritual element with the souls, the speaker then goes on to point out a difference between physical and spiritual love. In the first stanza, we see that with physical love there is an experience of pleasure that is followed by sleep. However, when two souls are joined together in love there is an absence of fear and the outside world becomes irrelevant to them. The room that the two of them are in (in this case the bedroom that they woke up in) is the only world that matter because that is where their souls are joined. By saying that once their souls become connected they are free of fear and the rest of the world becomes obsolete, the speaker puts a large amount of significance on the spiritual nature of their relationship in unity of the lovers. After describing the importance of the physical nature of the lovers and the spiritual nature of the lovers, the speaker then goes on to discuss how these two ideas are connected in the latter portion of the poem.

At the start of the third stanza, the speaker says that “My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears, / And true plain hearts do in the faces rest.”[4] In these lines the speaker is bringing together the physical and the spiritual by saying that their faces are reflected in the other’s eye, which is the window to their soul where they can see the other’s heart. G.R. Wilson, Jr. says, in reference to lines 15 and 16, that “Each lover has two manifestations – himself and the reflected self in the other lover’s eye – and thus each has both a physical and an ideal, or shadow, existence.”[5] Wilson does a great job of representing the dichotomy of the image Donne gives, however I disagree with how he concludes his statement.

While I agree that the manifestation of the speaker himself represents the physical side of image, I would argue that the speaker’s reflection in his lover’s eye is meant to represent a spiritual side of the image. I believe this represents a spiritual side to the image because it appears to be directly related to the previous line in which the speaker says, “Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.”[6] Here the speaker is saying that each of them is a world for the other to explore and together they make up one world. This one world is in reference to the previous lines in which the speaker discusses the conception of one would as a result of the joining of their two souls. Therefore, when the speaker and his beloved are looking into each other’s eyes they are exploring the world that was described in the second stanza, which is comprised of the lovers’ bodies and souls and as a result displays both physical and spiritual components.

Taking this a step further, Wilson quotes the work of Arnold Stein saying, “In his elaborate explication of this poem, Stein points out that ‘where the lover sees his own reflected face directly, while he sees directly the other face, but only feels its image reflected in his own eye, there exists the most delicate point of contrast between the subjective and the objective.’”[7] What Stein seems to be suggesting is that the image of the lover reflected in the speaker’s eye is not something that he could ever perceive. So how could he know that the image is there? While the idea that he can see his lover represents her physical manifestation, the reflection of his lover in his own eye seems to take on her spiritual manifestation because although he cannot see her refection, he knows that it is there as result of their connected souls.

At the end of the final stanza the speaker brings up another instance that implies the connectivity of physical and the spiritual. The speaker says, “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.”[8] Here the speaker explains that in order for a love to be eternal the constructs of that love must be balances, otherwise the love will eventually die. As the arguments previously stated in this paper suggest, the components that make constitute love for Donne in this poem are the physical and spiritual aspects of human nature.

Therefore, lines 19 to 20 suggest that both the physical and the spiritual are equally important aspects of the love between the speaker and his beloved and as a result, vital for their everlasting unity. In the third stanza of the poem, the speaker introduces an extended image that serves the purpose of explaining to the reader how both the physical and the spiritual work into the unity of the poem’s lovers. The quatrain of the third stanza read “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?”[9] Many critics and scholars have understood this quatrain to use the image of a cordiform map to illustrate the unity of the speaker and his beloved. One of the most notable and well know authors to draw the connection between what Donne is saying and the composition of cordiform maps is Robert L. Sharp. Sharp says in these lines “Donne is saying that each heart is a hemisphere: the two hearts together make one world. There is just such a depiction of two hearts, each a hemisphere and both together forming one world, in the double cordiform maps of Fine and Mercator.”[10] What Sharp is suggesting is that the two hemispheres are two whole hearts that come together to make one heart. What is important to note here is that by making that assertion, Sharp must conclude that the map Donne is referring to is one comprised of the unity of two whole hearts and therefore must be a double cordiform.

Author Julia M. Walker agrees that the map Donne is referring to is a cordiform map, however she takes issue with Sharp’s argument that it is a double cordiform map created by two whole hearts. Walker says, “The third stanza develops the image of a single projection: ‘My face in thine eye,’ (1. 15) not ‘eyes’, Donne writes. The ‘two…hemispheres’ the lovers see must therefore be united hemispheres, a single projection of a cordiform map, not the divided world of the double projection.”[11] I think that while this argument is valid, she seems to be neglecting the last line of the second stanza where the speaker states that him and his beloved are both whole worlds that make up one world. I would instead suggest a hybrid of both Robert Sharp’s and Julia Walker’s arguments to explain this complex image.

The argument for a double cordiform map seems to be a solid argument because of the information provided in line 14. However, I think that Mrs. Walker’s argument can be used not to prove that the unity of the two lovers can be split into two half hearts, but rather that each whole heart that both the speaker and his beloved poses can be split in two. The speaker says, “Where can we find two better hemispheres” immediately after the image of the speaker and his beloved looking into each other’s eyes, which I previously stated showed a dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual in each of the individuals.

Therefore, it would make sense logically that the hemispheres in the next line are not the speaker and his beloved, but rather the physical and the spiritual elements that make their portion of the one world in the double cordiform map. By making this distinction, Donne is able to use this extended imagery of the globe to show the importance of the duality in human nature to the construct of the unity between the poem’s lovers.

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