John Donne – The Good-Morrow – Poetry Lecture and Analysis by Dr. Andrew Barker

The Good-Morrow is an aubade. This is a poem written in the morning,
a song of the morning. The poet is addressing a young lady
that he has just spent the night with, and whatever has transpired
the night before has either been some sensational sexual activity, or one of those
life-changing, emotional experiences. Something has occurred between them
that has changed the balance of their relationship and in the morning, John Donne
addresses her with these words. As a brief synopsis of his poetical background,
he is one of the metaphysical poets. The metaphysical poets, another one being
Andrew Marvell, whose work you may come across. The metaphysical poets were a loosely-connected
group of writers from the 17th century, so we are post-Shakespeare
at the time when this poem is written, and the concerns of the metaphysical poets
would be – if I was to say, ‘metaphysical poets tend to
investigate the world through witty yet rational discussions of its phenomena,
rather than by intuition or mysticism.’ That pretty much sums up what the
metaphysical poets were trying to do. Wittily assess the phenomena of
the modern world, not through a mystical way
of looking at it, but this is what is actually going on
in the world as we experience and see it. The brilliant critic, Dr. Johnson
wasn’t overly flattering about the metaphysical poets. He was to say of them,
and I’ll read this out to you: “The metaphysical poets
were men of learning, and, to show their learning
was their whole endeavour; but, unluckily resolving
to show it in rhyme, instead of writing poetry,
they only wrote verses, and, very often, such verses
as stood the trial of the finger better than of the ear;
for the modulation was so imperfect, that they were only found to be verses
by counting the syllables… The most heterogeneous ideas are
yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for
illustrations, comparisons, and allusions; their learning instructs,
and their subtlety surprises; but the reader commonly thinks
his improvement dearly bought, and, though he sometimes admires,
is seldom pleased.” Well, perhaps Johnson has a point here,
but this quite famous synopsis of what the metaphysical poets do,
we can ask whether it applies to the specific poem that we’re
looking at here, ‘The Good-Morrow’. Now, the way I will introduce
‘The Good-Morrow’ to you. I will read it through. I will then do the
sentence-by-sentence paraphrasing of what Donne is saying in the poem. I will then leave one
of the lines of the poem out. Teachers who may wish to
introduce this to a class, there’s a certain crassness of it
which you might not feel happy about introducing to younger students. So I’ll leave that at the end, and you can
cut that piece out if you so choose. But since it is there in the poem,
it would be remiss of me not to mention that. What I’m going to point out to you
is actually there in Donne’s intent. And finally, I will give a synopsis of
Donne’s overall idea of what has happened between last night
and the way he sees himself as he looks at the girl in the morning,
saying this beautiful poem to her. So this is the first read-through
of John Donne’s ‘The Good-Morrow’. I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did till we loved? Were we not weaned till then? But suck’d on country pleasures childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den? ‘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. 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. 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. 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? Whatever dies, was not mix’d equally;
If our two loves be one, or thou and I Love so alike that none can slacken,
none can die. And what a beautiful sentiment it is
that John Donne says to the young lady
in the morning here. Now we’ll do the line-by-line analysis
of what John Donne says to the young lady as he wakes up
and addresses her first thing in the morning. We are in post-Shakespeare times here,
so we’ve still got ’twas’, ‘thine’, we’ve dispensed with ‘hey nonny nonny’ at this point,
but we’ve still got old-style colloquialisms. And his opening line
to her contains one. It’s, ‘I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did till we loved?’ ‘By my troth’ means ‘by my truth’. ‘Thou and I’ is ‘you and I’. So he says, or he is saying,
‘I wonder what you and I did till we fell in love?’ ‘What were you and I doing
until we fell in love?’ ‘By my troth’, it’s almost like
a marriage ceremony. During a marriage ceremony,
you plight your troth to show your honesty. So he’s saying,
‘I want to lay my cards on the table here. I’m really interested in knowing what you and I
were doing until we fell in love.’ Now, the implication is that
something has happened and that something has recently changed their relationship
to change the nature of their love. I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?, he asks. Now ‘weaned’ is what you do to a baby
when it is being breast-fed and you want to
feed the baby milk, cow milk. So to move the baby from
breast milk to cow milk, you wean the baby off,
off the mother’s breast. And Donne is using this somewhat
as a metaphor for- not somewhat, Donne is using this specifically
as a metaphor for ageing. From going from
childishness into adulthood. Now of course it’s not a perfect metaphor
because you don’t wean a child into it becoming an adult,
you wean a baby into it becoming a child. But we can understand
what he’s getting at here. He wants to show that
previous to this experience that they have had, they were children –
unsophisticated, babyish, and now something has happened which
has changed them into them being older. Were we not weaned till then?, he asks/ But suck’d on country pleasures childishly? So whatever the pleasures they have had
before this new experience has befallen them, they were children,
they weren’t weaned. They hadn’t yet loved. I’ll come back to that line, incidentally. But ‘sucked on country pleasures childishly’. ‘Sucked’ is still alluding to breast-feeding, I think. We ‘sucked on country pleasures childishly’. Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den? The Seven Sleepers’ den’ could be
one of the examples of this gratuitous learning that Dr. Johnson seems to dislike so much,
so heaven knows what he would have made of T.S. Elliot and Ezra Pound. The Seven Sleepers’ den is a
Catholic story whereby there are a group of children who are
undergoing some persecution and they hide in the Seven Sleepers’ den
and then hundreds of years later, they awaken to a new world. The use of this story to Donne here
is that they are children, the Seven Sleepers are children
when they are in the den, in the Seven Sleepers’ den. And when they awake,
when they come out of the den, they awake to a new world.
And that’s what he’s looking at here. He and the girl are, he sees,
children, or like children. And something has happened
to make them awake to a new world. Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den
he says, as well. ‘Snorted’ has the connotation of animals, to me.
I always think of pigs when I think of ‘snorted’. And Seven Sleepers den- a den is a place
where a fox or an animal lives. It’s as if Donne is saying that
‘prior to this moment, we were childish animals. But something has happened
to change that.’ And he’s asked these questions. So I’ll read it through again
up to this point. And the questions he’s asked are: I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did till we loved? Were we not weaned till then? But suck’d on country pleasures childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den? Four questions, he asks. And then he says, ’twas so’. Meaning he’s asked the four questions,
and he’s answered, ‘yes’, we were kids, we were children,
we were animalistic children. This is true.’ Twas so. It was so. He’s asked the question and answered it. ‘But this, all pleasures fancies be’, he tells her. ‘But this, all pleasures fancies be.’ Now, what he means by this is that
all of the previous pleasures that he has had, they have merely been fancies. ‘Fancies’ being nice, small,
but basically insignificant instances. Not something you don’t enjoy,
but something that doesn’t really carry any weight. He says, ‘yes, we did do this, but all the
pleasure we got from it was mere fancy’. ‘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. So what he means here,
and this is a slightly complicated line, with a lot built into it,
but not too difficult for us, I think. If ever any beauty I did see,
which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee. So he’s saying,
‘all the beauty that I have seen up to this point-‘ Let’s be specific here. There are two ways of reading this line,
and I’ll show you them both. The first is,
‘if ever any beauty I did see’ – and by beauty here, he means –
‘anything beautiful that I’ve ever observed up to this point in my life,
like a sunset, all the beauty that I’ve seen up to this point
in my life twas but a dream of thee. Everything beautiful I’ve seen was a preparation
for the beauty that I see in you now. I was looking at other beauties,
and I was dreaming of the beauty that I was going to see
when I look at you.’ He was in a sort of
pre-cognitive state. So beauty there is world beauties.
Anything beautiful. But the other way of looking at it,
and the other way I think is more fun and more realistic; though,
not specifically more romantic perhaps, he’s basically saying,
‘any beauty that I did see, which I desired and got,
so any beautiful woman that I’ve seen up to this point in my life,
that I fancied, that I desired and got, I seduced and had sex with,
really, all the other women that I’ve known up to this point in my life
were but a dream of you. They were insignificant
compared to you because there is something about you that is
so special that I was looking for it, dreaming of it in every
other woman I’ve ever met.’ It’s a lovely sentiment, I’m sure. Whether a woman would actually
buy that if she heard it, will be a different matter altogether. Every single other beautiful woman
I’ve ever seduced in my life, every woman I’ve ever slept with, really,
I was just dreaming of you, as I looked at them,
because you are so perfect that I was searching for that beauty that you
possess when I was with them. I think the other reference we have to
bring into this here is Plato’s allegory of ‘the cave’.
And Plato’s cave allegory is that human beings are on the floor of the cave
and they cannot see the sun above them, because they can only see
a wall of the cave, and they see the sun reflected
onto the wall of the cave, and they can see reflections of things
which stand before the sun, but not the things themselves. So, the idea is you
never see anything perfect. You can merely see reflections of
the perfect bodies that are actually there in the
light of the sun. And what Donne seems to be –
and I’m fairly certain is alluding to here is that he’s seeing the girl as
one of the perfect bodies as allegorised by
Plato and the cave. And every other girl
that he’s ever met is merely the reflection
of her on the cave wall. Whether the young lady is
flattered by this display of his learning and eloquence
remains to be seen. But that’s one of the things he’s alluding to,
and perhaps one of the things that Johnson himself finds rather
gratuitous displays of learning. So that’s the first stanza for us,
and I’ll read that through one more time, because the second stanza is
going to start with a change. I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did till we loved? Were we not weaned till then? But suck’d on country pleasures childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den? ‘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. Why I think, incidentally,
that this has to be about a woman, other women, [is because] you can’t really get a sunset. When he says ‘other beauties I did see
which I desired and got’, it has to be a type of beauty
that you can want and get. And a woman fits that bill perfectly
as far as the rhetoric of this poem goes. So we’ll now start the
second stanza, which begins with: And now good morrow to our waking souls ‘Good morrow’ of course
means, ‘good morning’. It also means ‘the good morning’,
this morning which we have arisen in is good. But essentially,
it means good morning. And now, good morning
to our waking souls. So the idea here is that
our souls are now awake on this day. Meaning that previously,
our souls were asleep. ‘And now, good morning to this
new dimension in our relationship.’ I’m not a big fan of poets using the word ‘souls’,
because I think it can be used very loosely, and almost very cheaply to just try and
signify that something more significant has happened. A change has happened which has
made life more significant. Particularly, if you don’t particularly
believe in a soul as something that can be defined. The poem can take on a quasi-religious element
as soon as people start talking about the soul. However, it’s easy for us to understand
what Donne is getting at here. Previous to whatever happened last night,
we were kids enjoying animalistic, childish pleasures. And now, something has happened
which has made our relationship and our love for each other more sophisticated. And now good morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear; Which is a rather strange line. He’s saying now,
we don’t look at each other out of fear. So presumably, previously,
they were looking at each other out of fear. And fear of what? Fear of physical violence to each other?
That seems highly unlikely. The only fear that I think fits this is
the fear of betrayal, or the fear of one person
leaving the other. ‘Now good morrow to our waking souls,
and now our souls don’t look at each other out of fear.’ ‘There’s now nothing for us
to fear in each other’. And Donne now comes up with
one of those beautiful lines, one of those lines that guys should
remember to try and impress women with. It’s ‘for love all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.’ It’s a beautiful idea this. For love all love of other sights controls It means that somebody in love
sees with the eyes of a lover, and the eyes of a lover see things
differently from other people. I suppose the easy way,
almost clichéd way of saying this would be, a lover sees things through
rose-tinted spectacles. Thomas Aquinas has this lovely line
where he says something like, ‘what we perceive is not reality,
but reality seen through our method of reasoning.’ And the method of reasoning
that a lover employs is always to see the world
much more highlighted, much more bright,
much more interesting. As a place that he can be
much more concerned with. And for love all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere. To a lover with the person he or she loves,
the little room that they are in is everywhere. Nothing else matters
outside of that room. Ezra Pound sums this situation up
in one of his poems, ‘The Garrett’, where he says something like
‘I am near my desire, nor has life in it aught better
than this moment of clear coolness, this moment of waking together.’ The moment when you wake up
next to the person you’re in love with, that’s as good as life gets. And that’s what has just
happened to John Donne here. He looks at her,
and he looks around the room, and he realizes that
all he wants is in that room. He doesn’t need to be anywhere else. And remember, this is written
at a time of vast discoveries. Sea voyages to discover, stamp, file, and number
different countries and cultures. But Donne isn’t concerned with that.
And this is an exciting time in Western culture. But Donne isn’t concerned with that,
or so he tells the girl. He tells the girl,
‘all we need to be interested in, or all we should be interested in
is this room, and each other’. For love all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere. It’s a beautiful line.
He continues with the conceit. He says, ‘Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown;’ So let the adventurers of our age go
and discover new worlds over the seas. Let them make maps of
other worlds on worlds. I mean, Donne doesn’t mean
worlds as planets here. He means worlds -although astronomy was around-
he means worlds as different cultures, different countries. If he’d said ‘places’, it would be easier
and more specific for us to understand. ‘Let maps to other places
on places have shown’ But that wouldn’t quite work so well
as for the final line, where he says – and this is a
rather complicated sentiment as well, but not beyond our
capabilities to understand – Let us possess one world,
each hath one, and is one. So, although the big discoveries of our age
are not being made in this room, they are being made by sea-voyages,
let us possess one world. That being the room,
but I would suggest that ‘let us possess one world,
each has one, and is one’, what he is alluding to here is
the idea that you are all the world to me. DH Lawrence has an idea somewhere
where he says, ‘the soul of one man and
one woman makes one angel’. And it’s that kind of thing that
Donne is alluding to here, the ‘we two are one. You are one person, I am one person,
or you have one world, I have one world, but when we are together,
those two worlds become one world.’ Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown; Let us possess one world,
each hath one, and is one. Each has a world of its own,
and together, we are a world on our own. I’ll read that stanza through
one more time. 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. 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. Rest of the world doesn’t matter.
There’s just me and you. The third stanza begins with
another one of these beautiful lines. My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest, It’s the first one of those lines
that I think is so good. My face in thine eye,
thine in mine appears Now, what you have to imagine is two lovers
looking directly into each other’s eyes. And he is seeing his face in her eyeball,
and she is seeing her face in his eyeball. My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears. It’s a beautiful line. And he continues with this by saying,
And true plain hearts do in those faces rest I’d have to point out,
I don’t think this line is as good. And true plain hearts do in those faces rest He sees his face in her eye.
Or she sees her face in his eye. And he says,
and true plain hearts do in those faces rest Well, plainly he means,
‘and it’s obvious that we honestly love each other’. That’s the point that he’s getting across. ‘And true hearts’ – good. ‘Plain hearts’ – ‘plain’ is a
rather unfortunate word there. ‘Plain’ has a connotation of ordinary. And I don’t think he means to
imply that ‘ordinary’, honestly. Ordinary seems out of place,
or plain seems out of place in any love poem of this sort,
but ‘true plain hearts do in those faces rest’. Yeah, also, as a metaphor,
it’s rather dodgy, isn’t it? Because if you take it literally,
‘true plain hearts do in faces rest’, they look in each other’s faces,
and they see their hearts in their faces. It’s a gratuitous image. It’d look like something out of
Salvador Dali if you take it literally. And often we have to take the metaphor literally
before we look at the metaphorical element of it. When metaphors work very well,
they have to work as a literal statement, and then work as a
metaphorical statement. And that one doesn’t really.
‘And true plain hearts do in the faces rest’. And well, we know exactly what he means,
there’s no real problem for us with it. Where can we find two better hemispheres,
he continues. What he means by
where can we find two better hemispheres A hemisphere is half a sphere. So the hemispheres which he’s talking about
are the hemispheres of their eyes. If you imagine a sphere being
cut down the centre, that hemisphere would be
the hemisphere of the eye. Of her eyes and his eyes. And of course, the other hemispheres
which he could be talking about would be the hemispheres of the planet,
the northern hemisphere and the southern hemisphere. The hemispheres of the whole planet aren’t as good
as what he sees in her eyes, or her eyes, because what he sees in
her eyes is actually him. But she sees herself in
his eyes as well. And this oneness connection is
showing how close they are, or how close he wants to
present them as being to him. There’s nothing more important
in the world than us two. I’ll just point out here actually,
I didn’t do it earlier but, the line Let us possess one world,
each hath one, and is one. This whole ‘we two are one’ idea. I think it’s easy to see that
as somewhat of a cliché. You and I are one person,
and I would understand if someone were to hear that as thinking,
‘well that’s rather a greeting card idea’, and maybe it is, but remember this is,
this was written 400 or 500 years ago. It’s pretty difficult for us to
read something from that age when we’ve had 500 years more writing done
by people who have used those same ideas that John Donne came up with
all that time ago. Presumably when he came up with this idea,
it wasn’t quite so clichéd. The critic James Wood has an
interesting statement on clichés in writing, or clichés in similes, whereby he says
the reason they become clichés, or the reason clichés become clichés
is not because they don’t work, it’s because they do work. The first person who said,
‘this is as cold as snow’, probably thought he was making a very
accurate and perceptive comparison. So when Donne says,
‘we two are one, we two are one person’, probably, this was considered to be
a very original statement. And nonetheless, it’s a nice statement
and we enjoy hearing it. Where can we find two better hemispheres Without sharp north, without declining west?
he tells us. The point he’s making here is,
he wants to say something derogatory. Well not derogatory,
but diminishing about the world, to show why the hemispheres
of the two lovers’ eyes are more important than the
hemispheres of the planet. And he hits upon the fact that the
hemispheres on the planet have a declining west. So the sun rises on the east, goes down on the west,
that’s what he means by ‘declining west’. He doesn’t really say anything derogatory
about the hemispheres of the planet, but he’s got to come up with something. And ‘sharp north’, presumably,
he means the needle on a compass points upright towards north,
and that’s a bit sharp. Perhaps that’s what he means. But it’s the sharp north
and declining west are just there for him to say things that
enable him to make the hemispheres of the two lovers’ eyes appear more important
than the hemispheres of the whole planet. And he now gives us his final line. Whatever dies, was not mix’d equally;
If our two loves be one, or thou and I Love so alike that none can slacken,
none can die. And this is slightly complicated. Whatever dies, was not mix’d equally Now, the poem was written at a time when
medical practice often believed that death was caused by
an imbalance of the humours. And as long as your humours
were in balance, you would live. When they were out of balance,
you would die. So things die when
they’re not balanced properly. Whatever the historical reasoning behind that,
it’s easy for us to understand the sentiment that whatever dies,
dies because it is not balanced properly. And this sentiment is very useful
for Donne in the love poem, because he’s saying,
‘our love has to be balanced properly’. He says, if our two loves be one,
or thou and I Love so alike that none can slacken,
none can die. Now, if I paraphrase this, he’s saying,
‘if our two loves be one, if you love me as much as I love you,
if our two loves be one, and thou and I love so alike
that none can slacken, if you love me as much as I love you,
and we both continue to love each other as much as I love you
at the moment, none can die.’ Now that would either mean,
we will live forever. Or it would mean,
our love will live forever. But I think this final line
raises a very interesting point which often goes unremarked on
in discussion of this poem. That is to do with the response
of the girl to what Donne is saying. And we don’t know what that is. Now, obviously, something very powerful,
very emotionally changing has occurred to Donne the night before,
whatever it may be. For he says at the start
of the second stanza, And now good morrow to our waking souls But he’s speaking for both of them there. It’s ‘our waking souls’,
not ‘my waking soul’. But how does he really know
whether the emotions that he feels are as powerful for the girl
as they are for him? And of course, he doesn’t. He’s being rather presumptuous
in saying ‘our waking souls’. But of course, to convince the girl
that he is in love with her, and that something has
changed for him, if he just said, ‘and now good morrow to my waking soul’,
it wouldn’t sound as good, so he has to rope
the girl in with it as well. Now, whenever we hear a
beautiful love poem like this, we always think that the guy
or the girl writing it deserves to be loved in kind,
and she or he is in fact speaking for both partners. But there’s no guarantee of that. For all we know, the girl may
hear this and think or say, ‘yeah thanks John, actually it’s a
very nice thing to say in the morning, but honestly, last night wasn’t that great for me.
Fun, but I’ve had better.’ And John goes away crying. Historically, we don’t know
whether that was the case. But remember, this was an address to the girl.
He can’t speak for the girl in this. And this idea of him trying to convince the girl
to love him as much as he loves her, or he claims to, is very relevant
and apparent in the final lines. If our two loves be one If. If you love me as much as I love you.
Because he doesn’t know how much the girl loves him. He’s pitching this poem to her to –
presumably get her to say so. If our two loves be one, or thou and I Love so alike that none can slacken,
none can die. ‘Our love will live forever, or we will live forever,
if you love me as much as I love you.’ And let’s hope for his sake that she does.
So I’ll just drop back now to that third line, But suck’d on country pleasures childishly What Donne is alluding to here in
‘sucked on country pleasures childishly’ is female genitalia. In ‘country pleasures’,
he is playing on the sound of the word ‘cunt’. Shakespeare does the same thing in Hamlet
whereby Hamlet lies down in Ophelia’s lap and, Ophelia is somewhat shocked
by the fact he’s doing it, and Hamlet says,
did you think I meant ‘country matters’, by which he means matters of the cunt. Now as crass as this may sound
to a modern audience, we don’t know whether the word
had the same shock appeal as it has now. But it is there in the poem. The sound of the word is something
that Donne is playing with. And he means, ‘vibrant,
sexually-aware pleasures’ presumably’. Specific sexual pleasures. But not spiritually-aware pleasures,
I think, would be a way of putting it. When he says, ‘good morrow to our waking souls’,
in this instance their souls are awake, and they are in love.
Spiritually in love. That sort of stuff. Prior to this, they had been
sexually active, animalistic, childish. And something has happened for his
opinion on the girl to have changed. And he’s hoping she
shares the same feelings. So, ‘sucked on country pleasures childishly’. For the full meaning of that line,
he is referring to female genitalia for the purpose of referring to sexual pleasures,
which have now been transcended to the spiritual pleasures
of their waking souls. So when we look back to what Dr. Johnson said… I read out Johnson’s overall appraisal
of the metaphysical poets at the start. One of the complains is that
there is a kind of gratuitous display of learning which somehow jumps out at us too much
from the metaphysical poets. I’m not sure how much that
is true of ‘The Good-Morrow’. Maybe it is true of other metaphysical poets
and other poems by John Donne. As far as we could really accuse ‘The Good-Morrow’
of suffering from gratuitous displays of learning, we have the Seven Sleepers’ den,
which perhaps we wouldn’t know; the Plato’s cave analogy,
which perhaps we may not know, but we’re pretty sure it is there; we have the knowledge that sea-discovery
is happening around that time, but who at the time when the poem
was written would not know that; and also the now out-of-date
medical analysis of the humours. ‘Whatever dies was not mixed equally’. So i don’t particularly see this
as an unusually high frame of reference for Dr. Johnson to get
too excited about. So I think Donne in this poem is
exempt from the criticisms which Johnson makes. I’ll read the poem through one more time, and this is John Donne’s ‘The Good-Morrow’ final read-through. I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did till we loved? Were we not weaned till then? But suck’d on country pleasures childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den? ‘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. 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. 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. 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? Whatever dies, was not mix’d equally;
If our two loves be one, or thou and I Love so alike that none can slacken,
none can die. That was the Mycroft Online Lecture
on John Donne’s ‘The Good-Morrow’. I am Dr. Andrew Barker. Thank you, goodbye.

58 Replies to “John Donne – The Good-Morrow – Poetry Lecture and Analysis by Dr. Andrew Barker

  1. Dear Andrew, thank you so much for your lecture and for the attention you pay to the learning styles of your public. I'll use your lessons in my own lessons with my students in Milan. Roberta

  2. wow 🙂 really helpful 🙂 but you can sorten it up a bit 🙂 sometimes you repeat the same simple lines snd things over and over again , which harms the attention of the listeners 🙁

  3. "If ever any beauty I did see,
    Which I desired, and got, 'twas but a dream of thee"

    And with one bound he's free – of all those questions she might have about his exes 🙂

  4. Line three – IMO he's talking about what they did with others BEFORE they met – fun affairs and adventures without real emotional impact, NOT what they did together last night. I'd also take that he's treating her as an equal in this regard – that she too has had fun experiences in the past, and he respects that. Possible links to Confined Love?

  5. Hey guys come and check out our analysis of the flea and other literary texts on our new channel

  6. I think line four can also allude to the hazy state of smoking in an opium den ("snorting" and "den"), or simply being under the influence of a stimulant that creates only artificial and transient satisfaction and apparitions of beauty. This seems to accord with the idea of "dreaming," "fancies" and whims, but finally "waking" to each other.

  7. Thank you very much, you really helped me study for my final ;—; and im literally crying because i was lost how will i do on the paper. Thank you very much again T^T love your lectures

  8. You did more than analyse the poem, you taught how to analyse a poem and that is something a lot of lectures have failed to do. I skipped class to watch your videos instead… Good man.

  9. I really liked the analysis . The last part was like a twist of 'Game of thrones'. All the time , you think its spirit, in the end its just 'cant' be .

  10. By studying this poem with "To His Coy Mistress", we can see the difference between the metaphysical poet like Andrew Marvell. As both poems were about "sex" in a way, their ideas and how they presented the ideas of love were quite different. In "To His Coy Mistress", Andrew Marvell used a lot of similies that were not real and making sense which Shakespeare critized and told his fellows poets to avoid in "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun". However, the similies used in this poem were concrete examples like sea voyages and eye, which was quite different from Marvell's similies.

    The way I see this poem is that it looks like a very sweet poem to the girl he just spent a night with that we can see him complimentig the girl which I really like the line ""If ever any beauty I did see, which I desire and got, t'was but a dream of thee.". It may have sounded wrong as you have mentioned the two possible meanings of this sentence but for me, it is the meaning that he complimented all the beautiful things he had seen was just a dream of this girl.

    However, as you have mentioned that the love feelings might not be mutual, the "if" in "if our two loves be one" in the third stanza in the poem really caought my eye. It sounded like he was making up for the bad time/sex last night. If you love me in the same way I love you, then you might not die. I do not know if it is wrong or not. But for me, it sounded like he was scared that she might not love him so he would say this in order to calm himselfof the fear of losing her, maybe?

    1. I wanted to know more about the "feare" in the second stanza. Is it a fear of losing her once they had sex? Or the fear of awardness and shy?
    2. I also want to know more about the ideas of transforming from a baby to an adult? Is he suggesting it is the sex that transformed them?

  11. I think what Doctor Johnson says about metaphysical poems makes unnecessary allusion to display learning excessively seems to be true when we read The Good Morrow and To His Coy Mistress. But The Good Morrow is quite different from the nature of metaphysical poems which is to investigate the world through rational and witty discussion as you mention in the video. This poem is probably just a love poem dedicated to the woman he loves.
    In the second stanza, I think fear is referring to the uncertainty of their relationship. He is not certain whether the girl feels the same way as him even after this significant event that assures his love even more. And the reason of why the girl also looks at him with fear can be very different from him, not necessarily a mutual fear he sees in their relationship.

  12. I personally agree with what Dr. Johnson's critic about metaphysical poets. I cannot deny that John Donne's poem 'The Good Morrow' is a fully beautiful poem for his lover, but I think it is pretty much different with other poems that I have seen and it's different even with Andrew Marvel one. It was hard to guess if the poem was a true love poem or satire when I first read 'To His Coy Mistress', but at least I didn't have any feelings like it's a list or showing what they learned. However, in this poem, I had a strong feeling that the poem is written in a way like "showing what they learned was their whole endeavor". Of course the theme or what the persona in the poem is addressing to his lover is lovely and sweet, but it's just that how the poem writes the poem is just too much. I'm pretty sure that there are more appropriate or elaborate words rather than using 'seaven sleepers den', 'sea-discovers', 'hemispheres without sharp North, without declining West', and 'whatever dyes, was not mixt equally'. Because of the usage of other normal metaphors or words that can easily be understood, the poem doesn't look like putting too much intellectual things as what Dr. Johnson said in his critic, but compared to other poems (even if the poem was written by other metaphysical poets or not), it doesn't really give me a true-and-sincere-love-poem impression. Because of this reason, when I first read this poem, I felt like it is a poem that praises the beauty of knowledge or intellect by personifying 'knowledge' as 'you' or the girl that the poem is addressed to.

  13. Love this poem after watching your lecture. But to put the poem in a more contemporary format, can I say that John Donne had such great sex with this girl that he had never had before, and that is what made this girl so special to him? Apparently he had slept with a number of women ("If ever any beauty I did see, which I desired, and got,") but this one girl was so good in bed no other women could be compared to her; she managed to take sex to a whole new sophisticated level that he thought he entered a new world. So good sex leads to good morning and love. Seeing the poem in this way, everything is very passionate and very lovely but it does not feel quite metaphysical to me… unless, he was describing sex with just body sensations (childish pleasures) and sex with the one person he truly loved, which required physical and mental connections. That however is unlikely for he did not realize he loved her until they engaged in sex.

    I would like to know if this girl really existed in John Donne's life and how she responded to his love.

  14. It seems to me that Donne wrote this poem partly to tease the addressee of this poem of their bodily union the night before, and partly to tell – inform – her of its significance.

    Some of the words Donne used in the first stanza of the poem – ‘wean’d’, ‘suck’d’, and ‘countrey pleasures’ – which denote breast-feeding, also connote the sexual activities between the two last night. And I think such words are used as friendly banter with the girl.

    Yet what stands out from the poem to me is Donne’s unwarranted attempt to elevate the union of the two bodies to a spiritual, ‘religious’, and ‘geographical’ level. By alluring their bodily union to the waking up of ‘the seaven sleepers’, he has compared himself (and the girl) with these legendary people and by extension lifting up their sexual experience to a religious level. Then in the second and third stanza, he has gone further by equating the union of the body – an experience after which ‘one worlds, each hath one, and is one’ – with the union of the ‘waking soules’; and relating the experience – before which ‘t’was but a dreame of thee’ and after which the two ‘true plaine hearts’, the two ‘hemispheares’ met – to the great geographical discoveries of his age (e.g. the New World). Surely I admire Donne, as literary critic Dr Johnson does, for his great efforts to show originality in his poems, as in The Good Morrow. But, like Dr Johnson, I’m not totally pleased with the results; to me Donne has tried too hard.

    Metaphysical poets loved to engage themselves in the battle between emotions and intellectuality. Perhaps Donne intended to express his love for the girl wittily and intellectually when writing this poem; but his language – which overshadows his genuine feelings – had failed him. And what’s left in it – at least for me – is his breathtaking arrogance.

    Though I think some people may as well like this poem for the same reasons.

  15. This poem is so unrestrained.
    We could know his poem is divided into three sections. And he talks about different points in time with different feeling.
    First section talks about before they met. He uses “were we not wean'd till then? But suck'd on country pleasures, childishly” to express he thinks they just like a child, they actually don’t know what is love, they just follow their “animal” satisfaction, and he uses “suck'd on country pleasures, childishly? Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers' den?” to express he thinks their life is boring and dull. Even the pleasures are also fancies.
    second section talks about when they met. He uses “and now good-morrow to our waking souls.” to be the first sentence, I think it is so clever. He wants to say before they met their souls were sleeping, but because they met, they are wakeup, and because they falling in love, they are out of the life of boring and dull.
    and third section talks about after they met. He thinks love is some kind of balance, they could see each other, feel each other, touch each other, everything is perfect. He thinks their love could break through the shackles of death.

  16. Donne depicts his love his lover, not only in terms of platonic relationship but on a spiritual level. To him, the physical reunion between the two bodies is an important pathway towards the awakening of soul and spiritual love. Once lovers are united, oneself will be completed by the other. It is interesting that the poem contains some religious references including the soul, the Catholic story and mortality. If two love each other the same way can achieve morality, then what role would religion be or is it somehow diminished intentionally in the poem?

  17. I was once doing an essay about this poem, and my first assumption was that they were in love with each other already, and the image that I pictured in my head was the couple sleeping next to each other as usual. I didn't think about your interpretation that the two of them actually just met and made out for the first time. The whole thing seems more explainable under your interpretation than the my assumption.
    Also, someone told me that in some wedding ceremony, this poem would be read aloud as a celebration but she doesn't feel appropriate because of the uncertainty at last. Although the poem is mainly about how excessively a man loves his lover, the last stanza expresses some uncertainty. 'If' is used and there are still 'two love' at that stage, that means the woman probably still hasn't responded yet. But in my opinion, the uncertainty could be used very explicitly during wedding. A wedding is exactly the situation for the bride and the groom to respond to each other's love.

  18. I used to study the poem when I was studying a drama called "W;t". I always thought that John Donne loves talking about Death or things about death like his poem, "Death, be not proud". This poetry is different. It's different from what I expect Donne to be like.
    Throughout the whole poetry, the idea he tries to convey is "we" together can be the "world". I cannot determine whether it would be a radical idea on his era but I'm sure that it's constructed with fascination for love and the one he loves. In my opinion, cliche is something brilliant that too many people love to apply it then it turns out to be a common interpretation. I love the way that Donne portrayed "love". It's either "we are the world" or "us against the world" that makes "none can die".

    A really romantic one, even that it contains some erotic images.

  19. How I perceive this poem is that it seems to be a sweet and love poem addressed to a girl the speaker loves. In the first stanza, he might explain how they were probably young, childish, and obsessed with sex, not like they are now, truly in love with each other. He goes on saying in the second stanza that their relationship involves passion, sincerity, and souls with each other and they don’t need to be linked to the world since they have already formed their joint world or their bedroom is already become the whole world at that moment. And last he claims that each of them is a single hemisphere and they tries to combine with each other to build a whole world together with their love and passion. Since their love is well-balanced and in proportion, their true love thus will never weaken or die. Added, it is quite obviously that there is a shift from the physical relationship to the spiritual love. ‘But’ in the first stanza makes a contrast and claims that all the past physical activities seems to be meaningless. I think the poet might suggest that the ‘physical love’ might contains loads of uncertainties and each of them might be afraid of betrayal. However, uncertainty and fear does not work in the true love or ‘spiritual love’. Once each of them have already built the spiritual connection, they so-called true love can control the temptation of other things. They might considered to be the joint owner of their own world. If those two single hemispheres continue to combine together, they are not afraid of separation or break up of their relationship.

  20. It is interesting to notice the fact that we do not know if the lady that Donne had slept with really felt the same way as Donne did. Donne wrote this poem in a way as if that was the perfect relationship for both of them. But actually Donne did not really show the attitude of the lady towards this relationship in the poem. It is written as "And now good morrow to "our" waking souls" in the poem, obviously we know that Donne's soul is awakened, but it is hard for us to see how the soul of the lady wakes the same way Donne does.

  21. I think the persona of the poem is so confident in his love to his lover. However, the spiritual love he claimed between their relationship was just described from the person's perspective. There is a possibility that his lover may not be thinking like this. It means that they may not be as perfect as the persona thought. The fact of them being together may not make their whole world.

    Moreover, I think perfect love should be balanced in these three requirements: passion, intimacy and commitment. The spiritual love of the poem has fulfilled intimacy and commitment, as the poem emphasises what matter is their love within their soul. However, passion is also important in their relationship. I think passion involves the strong emotion acting on each other, including joy, anger or sex drive. The poem has overwhelmingly emphasises on the intimacy part of their love, seemed to me neglecting the importance of passion. At the first stanza, Donne talks about having sex when they were young. The after part of the poem suggests that their love in soul can overcome the passion. This imbalance structure of love that suggested by Donne is too perfect that it is so hard for people to practice.

    Therefore, I feel doubtful whether the theme of it is to promote this spiritual love or to suggest that this kind of perfect love would not exist in the world.

  22. Thank you for the lesson. Just a thought: the "sharp north" suggested to my the sharpness of cold, not the sharpness of a compass needle. This fits with the other idea of hemispheres "declining" in the west – our love does not decline or grow less. In the same way our love is not cold, like the north.

  23. I'm not big fan of metaphysical poetry, but this lecture changed my mind about 'good morrow'. Also Dr. Andrew Barker is hot 🙂

  24. I don't think Donne meant 'ordinary' by 'plain'. But more like.. 'plain' to see, obvious, revealing. Just a thought.

  25. Again, an insightful talk. A few suggestions: although it is tempting to import our rather limited, current usage of the word "plain" into this discussion, in Donne's time "plain" threw a much wider net of associations, including: unadorned (lacking artifice), full, complete, non-material, adult (as in "plain age"), and demonstrably alive (as in "plain life"). Mirrors were also a preoccupation of this period, and when Donne refers to two lovers looking into each others' eyes (as if into mirrors) the visual effect for the listener would have likely included this conjury: the curved, infinitude of worlds created by one mirror reflecting into the other, essentially multiplying the lovers' "little room" into everywhere and everything.

  26. Awesome lecture and Andrew thanks a lot for this lecture. There is another such a lecture in Cloud School in bangla language.

  27. Thank you for making this poem accessible without losing it’s charm even inspiring further investigation: If I were less interested in portraits I would certainly be happy with the standard portrait we see here. That of the respected Doctor Donne. Dean and widower. But with this poem I would have preferred the portrait of the young lover the, the world is my oyster Jack Donne from 1595. There are plenty of interesting portraits on the internet. From the catholic teenager, sword in hand, to the dying Donne in his shroud, and by good artists. Self-promotion in style. . .As for the line “And true plain hearts…..” I found out that at the time, the map of the world was represented in the shape of a heart (cordiform). Thus the poem describes the mirroring heart of each lover, and plain means flat. This fits in with the poem. To call it a display of learning would be hateful. (There seems to be a tradition of hating Donne) after all Donne was interested in these things and “We find our inspiration where we might”. (Your sonnet 1). . . Regarding the IF in the final triplet, French has an if (si) of certainty as well as that of supposition. My one-volume OED does not give that option, but why should it not be possible in Renaissance English? It would marry the rhetoric. . . . .This is too long. If (?) I find this interesting it doesn’t give me the right to take other people’s time.

  28. The line,"But suck'd on country pleasures, childishly?". Could this be seen as living, or making the most-enthusiastically(the way a child may suckle), of countryside nature, happenings, fun and games with friends etc? "Pleasures", may be construed as sarcasm to what seemed great then, but, not much now compared to his time with his lover; and "childishly", being innocent not knowing any better then?

  29. …Thanks for your response. It’s irresistable not to answer at least one of the (rhetorical?) questions. The first time I visited the National Portrait Gallery in 2007, the 1595 painting of the young lover had been bought six months earlier. I knew nothing about that and suddenly standing face to face with the portrait was like receiving a punch. I immediately recognized the face, not handsome but arresting, and was surprised by the overwhelming self-reliance of the attitude. As the quotable lines of the poems popped up from my memory I realized that I shouldn’t be surprised. Poems and portrait intertwined and completed each other. Evidently this should have been the portrait attached to The Good Morrow, but now I think I know why it isn’t: like me, you simply didn’t know it existed!…?…
    It has been claimed that words are more revealing than the picture. Perhaps, but with Donne I see no rivalry only cooperation because both are deliberate. Donne ordered the paintings himself and they tell us how he wanted to be seen. A calculated self-invention! Prompted by self-preservation. He reflects on the power of pictures in “His Picture” and “Witchcraft by a Picture”, and he has a sense of quality. After Donne’s death the inventory showed that he kept a Mary Magdalen by Tizian in his bedroom.
    The portrait of the older Donne that we see here, by the famous Isaac Oliver, shows him handsome and well groomed. Far too handsome: the characteristics of the face are tuned down. The devil has left. King James needed a pious man and this is the priest and poet of the Holy Sonnets, but still not a humble person. Doesn’t it matter that he i linked to the love poem? A meagre consolation may be found in the pessimistic view (a Donne-paradox) that many don’t look that close on a portrait. A wet blanket though.
    I see that I can be accused of romanticizing. Quite ironic because I believe that Romanticism is the number one obstacle when it comes to understand old poetry. In order to de-romanticize – as an experiment – I try to set the poem as a dramatic monologue, inserting a narrator. It hurts but is there anything in the text to contradict it? Thus the silent girl is no longer a person you can pitch a poem to, and honestly I can’t see that Donne ever individualized her enough for that. At the same time the arrogance of the ‘we’ evaporates. The ultimate test to see If the poem is no longer blurred by an overlay of Romanticism would be to have a positive answer to the question: “ Is it possible to imagine John Donne reading this poem aloud to his circle of student friends?”
    Please don’t be mistaken by my blunt Danish style. I sound like a teacher and it’s definitely the other way round. I have learned so much from you and I am so grateful. Donne (+1 other writer) was the only one to stay when I banned everything English. John Donne is an old friend and it was this Mycroft Lecture that made me decide to reopen the door to the English. I could not have wished for a better or more reliable guide.
    Thank you for reading this far. I shall never write such a long comment again.

  30. This chap's definition of the term "by my troth" is quite singular and not quite to the point. Also, he calls Donne "post-Shakespeare". Since the Bard died in 1616 and Donne in 1631 the latter can hardly be called post-Shakespearian. Further, since this poem belongs to Donne's earlier poems, when he was "Jack Donne" (born in 1572), neither can we hardly be said to be in "Post-Shakespearian times", as Mr Barker puts it.
    Another point in line 3 is that the subject of "sucked" is the word "we" from "we were weaned", thus implying that they both "sucked on country (= cunt) pleasures". It is indeed a crass statement to say that she is lesbian on the odd occasion.

  31. I've found it to be very shallow! More of theatrics than actual content! Good for High School alright but, not fit to be given out as college lectures…
    I'm sorry but… this is what it felt like…

  32. This was a knowledgeable synopsis; however not playing into Donne’s rampant sexual innuendos enough.
    “Without sharp north, without declining west” evokes an erect penis, and “whatever dies was not mixed equally…[if our love and love making is truly this amazing] none do slacken” is in direct, albeit paralleled, reference to an election as well.

    Just food for thought!

  33. Beautifully presented , clear and concise and treats the 'viewer/listener' in a very direct and open manner..I personally felt uplifted by your reading of John Donne as I am so often disappointed by readings that I have come across, usually rather pedantic and almost formulated and lacking in a matter how apparently the erudition of the speaker. So thank you..You bought Donne to life rather than kill his spark..

  34. I've no doubt that this presentation is helpful to young students. Still, a few of the remarks miss the mark. The suggestion that the image of two people becoming one through love was fresh in the 17th century is rather silly. Authorities on Renaissance, Medieval, Roman literature could no doubt cite examples of this notion. Still, it's good to warn students not to assume that what's cliché now was cliché then. It's a shame the presenter didn't remember that this is also true of the meanings of words. 'Plain' here means ‘honest’, ‘sincere.’ It didn't have a negative connotation for Donne. We still use ‘plain’ with this sense: the plain truth — be plain with me. Also, ‘fancies' here are things of the imagination, that is, fantasies. I don't think anyone uses the word this way anymore, but as an English teacher the presenter must have encountered it in "Ode to a Nightingale." "Snort' is a bit trickier. The meaning 'make a loud noise by breathing through the nose' is attested from the 15th century. I don't know if it was used in reference to animals. Perhaps. At any rate, it should be mentioned that the original meaning of 'snort' was 'snore.' Maybe Donne had both senses in mind; maybe he only meant ‘snore.' A general word of advice when reading literature from an earlier era: if a word choice seems odd to you, it’s probably not because the writer made a bad choice, but because the meaning or usage of the word has changed.

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