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The Sun Rising - a Poetry Friday post

Today's selection is a lovely poem by John Donne, who was born in 1572 and died in 1631. He led a rather varied and interesting life. Born Catholic, some of his family was persecuted for remaining openly Catholic after England became Protestant. Donne set out on a fine life in the law, but lost his first choice of career when his secret marriage to his boss's niece, Anne, became known. Donne eventually became an Anglican clergyman, known for giving dramatic sermons. In private, he wrote and circulated copies of poems, some of which were fairly erotic and of a libertine nature. Some were even of a rather insulting nature as far as their treatment of women. Most of the bawdy poems are commonly believed to have been written when Donne was a law student, sowing his wild oats.

Today's poem is related to sexual intimacy, but is not one of the poems Donne wrote in praise of the notion of bedding lots of different women. For that reason, many readers assume, correctly or not, that it was written for Anne.

Donne was fond of using something known as a "conceit" in his writing. Usually, these are drawn-out comparisons, often between rather odd partners. In the case of today's poem, the conceit is that Donne personifies the Sun, talking to the sun as if it were a human being who interrupted Donne and his lover.

The Sun Rising
by John Donne

      Busy old fool, unruly sun,
      Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
      Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
      Late school boys and sour prentices*,
    Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride,
    Call country ants to harvest offices,
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

      Thy beams, so reverend and strong
      Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long;
      If her eyes have not blinded thine,
      Look, and tomorrow late, tell me,
    Whether both th' Indias of spice and mine
    Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay.

      She's all states, and all princes, I,
      Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honor's mimic, all wealth alchemy.
      Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
      In that the world's contracted thus.
    Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
    To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.

*prentices: apprentices

The use of conceits fell out of favor in the early 1600s. In later times, Donne was classified (and thereby dismissed) by Dr. Samuel Johnson as a "metaphysical poet" because of his comparisons/conceits. In the early 20th century, however, folks like T.S. Eliot dug Donne's poetry back up and rehabilitated him, defending his metaphysical notions as they went.

Moving from the first through the third stanza, you can see the development of the conceit more fully, and why Johnson referred to it as metaphysical: At first the sun is merely an intruder, the way a person would be. But by the third stanza, the world and, in fact, the universe, has been reduced to the man and the woman and the sun.

The form on this one is interesting to me. Each stanza follows the pattern ABBACDCDEE, making it kinda sorta a ten-line sonnet (leaving out a quatrain somewhere along the line). Only without the iambic pentameter that one might expect - his metre shifts as he moves around in the poem. At least, that's what I'm going with unless I manage to more clearly I.D. the form in a bit, after the driving of the children has concluded its morning session.

Edited to add: The poem is an aubade, as noted in the comments by wordsrmylife. An aubade is defined as a poem that deals with lovers separating at dawn. (The scene in which Romeo and Juliet separate at dawn is an earlier example.) However, the aubade has no particular formulaic requirements as far as line lengths, etc.

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( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 27th, 2008 02:58 pm (UTC)
It's also an aubade, isn't it? "Why are you waking us up? Can't you see we're busy?"

A fascinating topic for a day so close to the longest day (ie the sunniest) of the year.
Jun. 27th, 2008 06:01 pm (UTC)
It is indeed an aubade, and I added a bit at the end of the post to say so (and credit you for the info.)
Jun. 27th, 2008 03:19 pm (UTC)
Been awhile since I've read this one. Love the last stanza. Thanks!
Jun. 27th, 2008 06:01 pm (UTC)
It is pretty, yes?
Jun. 27th, 2008 03:54 pm (UTC)
I do love these poetry Fridays. Having never studied poetry, it is like taking mini courses. Thanks so much for doing this.
Jun. 27th, 2008 06:01 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you enjoy it!
Jun. 27th, 2008 03:54 pm (UTC)
So his secret marriage ruined his career as a lawyer, but not as a clergyman?? I'd like to hear "Saucy pedantic wretch" in a SNL skit, too.

Jun. 27th, 2008 06:03 pm (UTC)
Now that you pulled that particular phrase out, I'm picturing Hugh Grant's character in Love, Actually, talking to the portrait of Margaret Thatcher about his personal romantic crisis (wherein he says something like, "You never had problems like this, did you? Of course you did, you saucy minx.")
Jun. 27th, 2008 03:58 pm (UTC)
poetry friday
Funny, I was not a John Donne fan in university at ALL. I found him rather dull, to be honest, but the way you've explained him makes him sound SO intriguing. And interesting. You have a definite way with description.
Jun. 27th, 2008 06:04 pm (UTC)
Re: poetry friday
I suppose this means I ought to be an author. And usually when one studies Donne in university, one has to read him with his archaic spellings, which kinda get in the way of understanding what one sees, in my opinion. So I went with the more modern take.
Jun. 27th, 2008 08:20 pm (UTC)
When I studied Donne in college we only read the reverent, religious stuff. Left out a lot, I now know.
Jun. 27th, 2008 08:47 pm (UTC)
You sure did miss a large portion of his poetry. But he was renowned for his religious writings as well, some of which inspired later writers (Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls and more).
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 27th, 2008 11:50 pm (UTC)
You and Sara Lewis Holmes.
Jun. 28th, 2008 03:35 pm (UTC)
Oh, I love John Donne. It was one of his poems that made me fall in love with the hidden symbolism of poetry...

I wasn't familiar with this poem. Thanks for sharing it!
Jun. 28th, 2008 09:06 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you enjoyed it!
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 1st, 2008 04:24 pm (UTC)
Don't you just love how poems lend themselves so well to personal connections?
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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