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The Sun Rising

May 25, 2013

The Sun Rising

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 to-morrow late tell me,
Whether both th’ Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou left’st 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 honour’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.

John Donne 1633

COMMENTARY: This poem falls into a category of poems in the troubador tradition called “aubades”–dawn songs. The opposite of a seranade, an aubade expresses the lovers’ lament of daybreak and forced departure. Donne’s speaker, however, unlike the speaker in a typical aubade, is not sorrowful but contemptuous, boastful, comic, and indignant at the coming dawn. As such, he manages to disarm it and turn it from something potentially fatal to the designs of love to, by the end of the poem, an exaggerated worry or minor nuissance, the Renaissance equivalent, say, to a ringing phone (noisy old full, unruly phone, why dost thou drone, etc, etc)–that is, something that can be silenced (dimmed) with a few words.

The argument of “The Rising Sun” is divided into 3 parts roughly–but not exactly–coresponding to the three stanzas.  In the first part, the speaker curses the sun–go bother someone else!–stressing that “lover’s seasons” are exempt from the rituals of the day. The adjective “unruly” is key, and should probably be glossed etymologically as “not ruled” rather than in the modern sense of “rowdy.” But who is really unruly? Not the sun, Donne says, but the lovers who refuse to submit to its seasons. In their bed-centric universe (note the poem was written roughly the time of the heliocentric controversy), the speaker can eclipse the sun by closing his eyes and his lover can blind it with her beauty. “Contracted” (shrunk, reverse-telescoped) to this state in which love alone is important the pair become the proper rulers of their solipsistic kingdom of love. In the final part of the poem, the speaker calls the sun to the lovers and orders it to shine in their room to warm them. This is the complete reversal of the beginning of the poem. The sun no longer tells the lovers to get up, but the lovers tell the sun to get up.

This is a beautiful poem that splashes and froths and exudes light, an effect that is enhanced by the broken-lined, harping, crisp rhymes. The pairing of “prentices” and “offices” I think is especially skillful.

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From → Love Poems

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