Saturday, 12 December 2015
The Good-Morrow: A Critical Analysis
A cursory glance upon John Donne’s The Good Morrow will regard it as a conventional love poem that derives its form from two related genres in Renaissance love poetry: aubade, a morning serenade of a lover to mistress and a similar popular literary form: aube, a love poem which presents a conversation between two lovers as they wake up at dawn after a night of love making. This later genre was one which Donne used on other occasions in Break of Day and The Sun Rising where he worked for somewhat different effect in his handling of it. The standard dramatic situation for this literary form is established in The Good Morrow by the implications of the title and by the rather oblique indications of lines 8-11 and 15-16 which present a bed-room scene in which two lovers lie peacefully in the morning gazing at each other.
Though the normal tone of this literary form is one of relaxed, tender eroticism, Donne breaks this pattern, as he did in The Sun Rising, by starting the poem with colloquial phrasing, the heavy stress and broken rhythm of an impassioned speech: “I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I/ Did, till we loved?” The lover is astonished to discover that he and his mistress have wasted their time in simple childish “country pleasure” that are described by the breast feeding images like “weaned” and “sucked” before their last night of love making. They might have hidden themselves and their mind like the seven christian young men of Ephesus who escaped Roman persecution by sleeping in cave. But the pleasure which the poet has experienced is not a nonsexual one. Rather it refers to the sexual conquest which is revealed by the words “pleasure”, “beauty”, “desired”, “got” that have specific usage in Donne’s vocabulary in the following lines:
“ ’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.”
Donne uses “beauty” in a sense roughly equivalent to the modern slang use of “babe”, “desired” and “got” have a specifically sexual implication. Similarly “pleasure” was strictly restricted to the meaning sensual pleasure. They seem merely a “dream” of her, a shadowy manifestation of the ultimate reality which she embodies.
In the early stanza we find that the two lovers especially the speaker are not young innocents who have just discovered sex. They are old hands at the game. Therefore they had thought that love was nothing more than lust. But he present love affair unlike the lover’s fleshly liaisons. It has brought about awakening of their souls and their souls have entered as active agents into a new realm of experience. This is stated in the following line: “And now good-morrow to our waking souls”. In their new experience of love, they do not watch one another out of suspicions and fear of infidelity which trouble ordinary lovers because this love is strong a force that it overpowers any desire which may divert their attention to anything outside. The small bed room, which shuts out the world, serves as a symbol for the entire contentment of a love that enables them to renounce not only other loves but also all of the normal activities of life in the world. That’s why the poet says:
“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.”
These images of “sea-discoverers” and map-readers, if taken literally, are used by Donne to differentiate his love which is fixed, self-satisfied and has a world of its own from the frantic adventurous curiosity, heroism and the romance of life of Renaissance. But if we penetrate into these literal meaning, we will find that the poet associated these images of “sea-discoverers” with the immature physical restless instability of love which is called in the first stanza childish country pleasure and “all love of other sights” in the poem.
In the next stanza the poet again returns to the bed scene where each lover finds his and her face reflected on the other’s eye: My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,/ And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;”. At the end of the previous stanza the poet has presented each of the lovers as a complete world, in absolute possession of the separate world of other ( “each hath one, and is one”). But now in the above lines he presents these two worlds as a single globe made up of two congruent hemispheres. Thus Donne makes a logical transition from a conception of the love relationship as the lover’s complete possession of one another to a conception of love as a fusion of the lover’s soul into a single new identity. As Donne develops this metaphor, he presents the globe formed by the two hemisphere as characterised by the same qualities of permanence and peace which were implied by his characterisation of the love in the statement: “true plain hearts do in the faces rest”. It is “without sharp north, without declining west”. Drawing the evidence of scholastic philosophy, the poet says: “Whatever dies, was not mixed equally”. But the poet thinks their love is immortal and permanent. Unlike the gross union of the unstable matter of lovers’ bodies, their love is a pure union of the eternal substance of lover’s soul to the heavenly sphere: “If our two loves be one, or, thou and I/ Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.”
The poem is typical love poem in which Donne discards the clowning and antic poses of his early love poetry and treats love with a gravity and richness of thought and emotion. The central idea of the poem that the long inner debate of body and soul can be resolved in wholly satisfying love which includes both physical sex and spiritual union points out to Neo-Platonism. But the poet comes to his conclusion not by emotional assertion but by logical analysis drawing examples and images from various spheres of knowledge. But Donne’s technique in spite of his scholarly references is not pedantic and appeals to the readers for its depth of thought and sincerity of feeling and emotion. Thus here occurs What T. S. Eliot says “association of sensibility” while praising the poetry of Donne.