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Close Reading: John Donne’s “The Sun Rising”

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UNMDP-FH Depto. de Lenguas Modernas Profesorado de Ingles English Literature Close Reading “The Sun Rising” By John Donne Student: SALADINO, Luciana Andrea Reg #: 15776/06 THE SUN RISING[1] 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.

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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 is 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: a metaphysical poet. The metaphysical poet and clergyman John Donne was one of the most influential poets of the Renaissance. He was born London in 1572 to a prosperous Roman Catholic family during a time when anti-Catholic sentiment was rising in England. His father, John Donne, was a merchant who died when the poet was only four years old and his mother, Elizabeth, was the daughter of and playwright and a relative of Sir Thomas More.

He received a strong religious upbringing until his enrollment at the University of Oxford at the age of eleven. After only three years at Oxford it is believed that he transferred to the University of Cambridge for another three years of study, never obtaining a degree at either college. Donne secretly married Anne More in 1601. Ann More was Sir Thomas Egerton’s niece. He was one of the highest officials at Queen Elizabeth’s court and Donne had been appointed his private secretary. As a result Donne was relieved from his position as a public officer and he was imprisoned for his amorous actions.

He later wrote about his experience in poetry, “John Donne – Ann Donne – Undone. ” Donne continued to live in London for the next few years working as counsel for the anti-Catholic pamphleteer, Thomas Morton from 1604 to 1607. It is also during this time that Donne began his writing with Divine Poems in 1607 and Biathanatos in 1608, later published after his death, in 1644. His love poems correspond roughly to the early period of his career. His poetry carries very particular traits for it abandons the rigid Elizabethan conventions, based on Petrarchism, improved with images taken from the field of earthly experience. The Sun Rising”, the poem that is going to be analyzed, is one of his most famous poems. Donne’s next work, Pseudo-Martyr, which was published in 1610, won him favor with the king. The prose work was a treatise that said Catholics could swear allegiance to King James the first without renouncing the pope. In 1615 John became a priest of the Anglican church and began giving his now famous sermons. Later that same year, he optioned the position of royal chaplain. St. Paul’s Cathedral appointed him Dean in 1621, a position he held for ten years.

Just as Donne’s fortunes seemed to be improving, Anne Donne died, on 15 August, 1617, after giving birth to their twelfth child. Struck by grief, Donne wrote the seventeenth Holy Sonnet, “Since she whom I lov’d hath paid her last debt. ” According to Donne’s friend and biographer, Izaak Walton, Donne was thereafter ‘crucified to the world’ [2]. However, Donne continued to write poetry, notably his Holly Sonnets (1618) . In his final years, while he was struck with a mortal illness, Donne wrote some private meditations, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, which were published in 1624.

The most famous of these is undoubtedly Meditation 17, which includes the immortal lines “No man is an island” and “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee. ”  Finally, Donne died in London on March 31, 1631. Donne and the poets that followed his style are known as metaphysical poets. Still, in The Norton Anthology of English Literature it is claimed that this term is a “misnomer” mainly because strictly speaking there was never an organized group of poets that recognized themselves as members of the School of Donne.

Gardner (1972) distinguishes the following as the main traits that characterize metaphysical poetry: firstly in metaphysical poems the reader in compelled to follow a line argument. The main aim of this type of poetry is not just to amuse the reader with the language used, but requires much more concentration in order to understand the idea that is posed. Secondly, another distinguishing feature of metaphysical poetry is “its fondness for conceits”. Nonetheless, the conceits used by Donne break with the prevailing use of them in Elizabethan poetry, which were mainly cliches derived from the Petrarchan tradition.

Metaphysical conceits, on the other hand, have a clearly defined purpose, they are used “to persuade (…) to define, or to prove a point”. Finally metaphysical poetry is widely known for its “abrupt, personal openings” delivered in a personal and colloquial manner. “The Sun Rising”, one of Donne’s most widely known love poems, can be used to exemplify most of the characteristics of metaphysical poetry, as well as a solid depiction of Donne as a poet. “The Sun Rising” “The Sun Rising” by John Donne poses a series of dichotomies indicating a certain type of hierarchy of one over the other.

The central theme of the poem is, itself, a dichotomy as it expresses the centrality of human love over a physical universe (Guibbory, 2006). Donne’s persona, in the poems, takes this exaltation of love further on to make a comparison between his and his lover’s bed and the whole universe, stating finally that his bed is the actual world. Before digging deeper into the analysis of the meaning of the poem, it is compelling to mention the structure. A striking feature of Donne’s poetry is his rhythmic boldness as he incorporated to his poems new metrical schemes (Wainwright, 1994). The Sun Rising” is divided into three regular stanzas which are ten verses long. As regards stress patterns, the stanzas combine tetrameter, dimeter and pentameter. A first attempt at scanning the poem may seem quite chaotic, but reading in depth the second and third stanzas, the reader finds the same pattern as the first one, discovering the poem’s regularity. The rhyme scheme in each stanza is ABBACDCD and a rhyming couplet EE. Many critics underscore the influence of Ovid’s Amores in Donne’s writings.

In this poem, the speaker asks aurora not to rise so that it could allow him to spend more time in bed with his beloved. In Classical Literature and its Reception, De Maria and Down sustain that “The Sun Rising” is Donne’s attempt at re-writing this request in the form of a “bullying demand of the universe”. Similarly, Achsah Guibbory in his essay “John Donne” argues that Donne followed Ovid in reaction against the idealization of love, insisting in a more realistic depiction. Donne “draws on Ovidian situations and attitudes to reject the conventions of courtly and Petrarchan poetry”[3].

In his poetry Donne breaks with the Petrarchan tradition of the unattainable, cold lady who is chaste and worthy of reverence by the suffering poet, to favor a more authentic representation where love is mutual. “The Sun Rising” takes the form of a salute to dawn. These types of poems were very common in the collection of poems of Elizabethan England. Traditionally, the sun has been taken as a symbol of fertility, light and purity. In these poems, the poet salutes the sun because it allows him another opportunity, a new day, to see his beloved (Nelson, 2006).

However, “The Sun Rising” takes on a completely different attitude towards the sun. Contrary to what one might expect after reading the title, Donne’s opening is strikingly violent: “Busy old fool, unruly Sun”. The very first line of the poem sets the bullying tone in which the speaker is going to address the personification of Earth’s main source of light and warmth. Insulting the sun, instead of praising the beauty of dawn, Donne shifts away from the mainstream writings of the period.

In addition, the speaker in the poem condemns the sun for shining so brightly that he interrupts his lying in bed with his lover (Nelson, 2006). By posing a series of rhetorical questions, the speaker demands that the sun go away to project his light over those who still abide by his rules, such as “schoolboys,” apprentices or court-huntsmen. For love, he claims, is neither governed by duty, weather nor time. In these lines the speaker diminishes the traditional hierarchical position given to the sun by referring to it with the epithet “saucy pedantic wretch”.

Bernard (1994) accentuates the importance in the choice of words that are used to refer to the sun in the poem. He claims that Donne reduces the status of the sun to a “busy body and voyeur” spying on lovers to insist that they return to their everyday obligations. More over, the sun is characterized as “pedantic”, apparently confined to a steady routine or fixed plan that he has to follow , but he is also “unruly”, meaning that the sun intrudes where he has no rights, such as into the lovers’ private bedroom.

In this fist stanza, Donne makes use of city imagery, for instance on line six “late schoolboys and sour prentices,” court imagery, such as on line seven: “Go tell court- huntsmen that the king will ride,” and nature imagery, as illustrated by the next line “Call country ants to harvest offices” to indicate others that, contrary to the speaker, are rules by the hours of the day. Finally, towards the end on the first stanza the poet compares time to a piece of ragged cloth: Love, all like, no season knows nor clime nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

The speaker, through a powerful metaphor establishes a parallel between measures of time and pieces of cloth that have been torn apart. In the couplet, the speaker makes his argument clear: unlike the people whom he has previously mentioned, his and his lover’s mutual love conforms a universe that has no time restrictions. Unlike the material world, his love knows not of seasons, nor hours or days; it is measureless. In the last line, through a very effective use of caesura, Donne gives a sense of time. Slowing the actual poem, not only the attention of the reader is drawn to the passage but also these lines make the tone more serious.

The second stanza follows the same pattern of the first in that it continues the criticism against sun regarding it as extravagant and boastful. The speaker presents a rhetorical question directed at the sun who supposedly thinks “thy beams so reverend and strong”. In the next lines, Donne’s persona asserts that they not nearly as powerful as others think and that they do not even compare to the beloved’s eyes (Nelson, 2006). The speaker uses hyperbolic language to undermine the power of the sun and accentuate the one of this beloved when he claims that the beloved’s sight could blind the sun.

From line fifteen onwards, Donne makes use of a rhetorical device very common in his writings: the metaphysical conceit. Skillfully, Donne compares his shared bed to the Universe. In order to sustain this idea,Donne asserts a series of hyperbolic statements: that all the riches of the mines in the “West Indies” and the valuable spices of the “East Indies” lie in his bed, personified in the person of his beloved ( Nelson, 2006). In this part of the poem Donne’s persona transfers all the wealth and power of the material world, into the world he and his lover have crated.

As Guibbory (2003) highlights, the speaker’s world of love takes the form of a treasure chest where all the valuable elements of the outside world are contained. In his bed lay not only the whole of the riches of the world but also the power of kings. All the element mentioned function as metaphor to refer to their mutual love, which is the one actually lying in their bed. The third stanza begins with the famous lines “ She’s all states, and all princes I”(. As regards rhetorical devices, a chiasmus is used in order to invert the structure of the hyperbolic elements in the verse.

Moreover, this line allows different interpretations in terms of meaning. On the one hand Achsah Guibbory supports the idea Donne’s description of mutual love suggests an implicit hierarchy; one lover rules over the other. Following his interpretation, the first verse of the third stanza could be seen as a manifestation of the “conventional hierarchical thinking about gender”[4] during the Renaissance. Donne’s persona poses the image that he and his lover embody the whole world and that beyond their “world of love” nothing else exists. It is important to highlight the full stop at the end of line twenty two “Nothing else is. accentuating the idea of finality. Further on,the speaker claims that compared to their relationship, all values are fake or useless. Compared to their relationship neither wealth nor honor matter. Thus, love is claimed to be greater than the sum of these parts, it represents the synthesis of all luxury, wealth and power of all the rules in the world (Kawasaki,1971). Finally, in the last six verses, the speaker addresses the sun directly and instructs him that he should only shine on the couple, for as the couple is equaled to the world, the sun’s “duties” would be complete in shining on them.

Donne’s persona states a paradox: “To warm the world, that’s done in warming us” that is explained on the following verse: “Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere”. On the last line of the poem the speaker claims “This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere” giving his and his lovers mutual love the highest supremacy. He upholds that there is no reality apart form him ans his lover, that they include the whole world so then, the sun, whose old age is stated in the euphemism “Thine age asks ease”, does its work by illuminating them, who represent the world.

In lines twenty nine and thirty of the poem, the persona ends his argument stating no longer a comparison but a mere definition of the relationship; their bed actually is the center of the universe and the walls of the bedroom where the lovers lay are the sphere that should be followed by the sun. To conclude, “The Sun Rising” is a clear example of metaphysical poetry, following Gardner’s classification (Gardner,1972). In the poem it is possible to find the main characteristics of this type of poetry, which also represent Donne’s style as a poet.

First, “The Sun Rising” begins abruptly, with a direct address to the sun, which is personified. Secondly, a line of argument in developed throughout the poem: the idea that the mutual love of the couple lying in bed is comparable to the whole Earth. Finally, this argument is expresses in the for of a metaphysical conceit, comparing love to the more valuable elements in the world, and transforming the bed and the room where the lover are placed into a figurative world that the sun is compelled to follow. Works cited Bernard,R. A Short History of English Literature.

Oxford: Blackwell, 1994. 40-43 De Maria R. and Down R. Classical Literature and its reception. Oxford: Blackwell publishing , 2007. 52-53 Donne, John. Poems of John Donne. vol I. E. K. Chambers, ed. London: Lawrence & Bullen, 1896. 7-8. Docherty, Thomas. John Donne, Undone. London: Methuen, 1986 Guibbory, A. “John Donne” in The Cambridge Companion to English Poetry: Donne to Marvell. Ed. Thomas N. Corns. Cambridge: CUP, 2003. P. 136 Gardner, H. The metaphysical Poets. London: Penguin 1972 Jokinen, Anniina. “The Life of John Donne. Luminarium. 22 June 2006. [27 June 2009]. Kawasaki, Toshihiko. “Donne’s Microcosm. “Seventeenth-Century Imagery: Essays on Uses of Figurative Language from Donne to Farquhar. Ed. Earl Miner. Berkeley: U of California P, 1971. 25-43. Nelson, N. H. The Pleasure of Poetry: Reading and Enjoying British Poetry from Donne to Burns. London: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006. 25-29 Norton Anthology of English Literature Otto, E. “Rhetoric’s Inherent Contradictions: John Donne’s “The Sun Rising” Ampersand April 1999 [25 June 2009] Wainwright, J.

Poetry: The Basics. London: Routledge 1994. Ps 74-75 ———————– [1] Donne, John. Poems of John Donne. vol I. E. K. Chambers, ed. London: Lawrence & Bullen, 1896. 7-8. [2]Jokinen, Anniina. “The Life of John Donne. ” Luminarium. 22 June 2006. [27 June 2009]. [3]Guibbory, A. “John Donne” in The Cambridge Companion to English Poetry: Donne to Marvell. Cambridge: CUP, 2003. P. 135 [4]Guibbory, A. “John Donne” in The Cambridge Companion to English Poetry: Donne to Marvell. Cambridge: CUP, 2003. P. 136

Cite this Close Reading: John Donne’s “The Sun Rising”

Close Reading: John Donne’s “The Sun Rising”. (2019, May 02). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/close-reading-john-donnes-the-sun-rising-1362/

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