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John Donne

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    Need Help on Donne's Famous Poem?

    When I named this Blog The Good-Morrow, I had absolutely no idea that hundreds of students and school pupils from all over the world would find themselves unwitting visitors, simply because they had typed The Good-Morrow into a search engine. So if you are one of those visitors, I have done my very best to reduce your disappointment and actually help you out. So if you came looking for help in understanding or writing about Donne’s poem, a good way to start is to listen to the poem and then please read on.

    Donne was fascinated by love and his work includes a rich selection of highly intelligent, complex love poems and The Good-Morrow is one that has often landed up in poetry anthologies. In some ways it is a very conventional love poem because, once you’ve read it, I’m sure you will realize that it is set at dawn, after a night of making love. This kind of poem is called an Aubade, a term used in poetry and music for the drowsy bliss of a post-coital dawn. You might well have come across another famous aubade in your English Literature studies without even knowing it. The little chat Romeo and Juliet share about nightingales and larks after their only night together is…an aubade. Shakespeare had no stage lighting and talk about larks, an early bird if ever there was one, is his way of telling the audience it is now day. Donne doesn’t tell us it’s dawn until verse two of his poem, And now good morrow to our waking soules, where the last word seems to embrace both their physical bodies and their unique, psychological selves.

    The lovely image which opens verse three, of their seeing each other’s reflections in their eyes, suggests not just physical, but emotional intimacy too. Casual sex was not a phrase you would have heard in Donne’s courtly, religious world, and it is important you realize these two are in love.

    When Donne wrote about love, although he does explore the sensual pleasures and sensations, he is much more fascinated by the effect love has on his mind than anything else, and that is definitely true of this poem. If you look at verse one for example, and work out for yourself what the list of rhetorical questions he asks leads up to, you should find it is that very familiar sensation to young lovers, the feeling that somehow everything that took place before this event was in some profound way meaningless or only fragmentary, a little bit of a jigsaw that until this moment of completion, you never even knew you were building.

    He also uses the very conventional love poem tactic of eulogising, or praising his lover. Beautiful women he may formerly have desired, and enjoyed, become just dreams in comparison to the girl in this bed, here and now, this morning.

    If ever any beauty I did see,

    Which I desir’d, and got, t’was but a dreame of thee.

    At first glance this seems quite a simple, straightforward compliment, but Donne is one of the most sophisticated, difficult and demanding poets in the entire history of English poetry and if you interrogate it a little more fully, it proves very revealing. We use phrases like ‘the girl of our dreams’ or ‘I must be dreaming’ routinely when the pleasures become so intense they seem to outstrip reality, but here, Donne says this girl is so superb that the real experiences of having loved other women, have all now become just dreams of her. Put yourself in her shoes for a moment. What an amazing compliment. For Donne, hyperbole is an instinctive gift. There are many examples in his poetry where you can think of a way of exaggerating something, and he will inevitably go one step further.

    You may also have noticed that there is no dialogue, no speech in this poem. Yet the girl is there, it is morning and they are both very conscious of what has just taken place between them. Donne recreates for us a stage in their developing love, the moment when he realises how significant this event is and conveys that knowledge to his lover. It really is a new dawn, a ‘good-morrow.’

    I hope that has been some help and if you are studying Donne in detail, and not just this one poem, you might like to take a look at the My Books section of this blog, or even post a comment or question here. Or visit my Facebook Page.


    Reader Comments (29)

    That was an excellent, illuminating analysis and exactly what I was looking for.

    December 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterneilgee
    Delighted to know you found it helpful. I don't know at what level you are studying Donne, but although he is not the easiest of poets to understand, he really is a wonderfully intelligent mind to engage with as a reader.
    January 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJoe
    Thank you
    February 6, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersomeone
    Excellent piece - enough to make anyone who is struggling with Donne, or just interested, to make their own way with the poem (and the rest of Donne's work) - without analysing it out of sight
    March 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRichard
    wow, that was fantastic to read, you've really helped me very much in my year 12 literature studies on Donne - thanks!
    April 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteranon
    Thank you this was very you have anything on how poetic techniques are used to explore the key idea of love?
    There is a whole chapter in my book on Donne called 'The Intensity of Love', which would undoubtedly help. But just to give you some ideas: one of the commonest poetic techniques in love poetry is eulogy, or praising one's lover, most conventionally of all, for her beauty. Have a look at a few of the poems and ask yourself does Donne do this? Another good strategy to adopt is to put yourself in the shoes of the woman addressed in any given poem. How would you feel if it he had addressed it to you? Then ask yourself what techniques does he use most often?
    May 30, 2009 | Registered CommenterJoe Nutt
    You just helped a very frustrated English student way over here in Norway!

    Thank you! Keep up the good work!
    September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSiri
    The best one on the web!!! Thanks a lot!!!
    November 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbored of literature
    It was very helpful for me. I'm glad you have made an analysis about it. Thank you very much. Good luck to your career and God bless! :)
    April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDiane
    As one interested in literature and also in the Art of Theatre , I find your dialogue (dialogue it is, because I felt myself intriguingly involved in everything you said about the poem: I played the lover, and I played the girl --- aternatingly, and simultaneously) most engaging and revealing. Thank you!!!
    May 1, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergoutam sarkar
    Thank you very much for your help. It was a valuable analysis.
    May 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFotini
    Thanks a lot. Very interesting and helpful for studies concerning literature before 1700. Donne's is absolutly brilliant but sometimes hard to understand. This blog helps a lot :)
    October 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathy
    thanks! I was studying poems by John Donne and Ben Johnson, and was looking for a good analysis on John Donne's The Good Morrow and found yours to be quite helpful :) Thanks from South Korea!
    October 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah
    Kathy & Sarah,
    Delighted to be of help. You are not studying Milton too by any chance? My new guidebook to "Paradise Lost" has just started in production.
    November 2, 2010 | Registered CommenterJoe Nutt
    you saved my life with this analysis! thank you so much! I am supposed to read this poem for my british literature exam, hope I'll pass it :)
    January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoanna
    My pleasure and I hope you pass too.
    January 28, 2011 | Registered CommenterJoe Nutt
    Thanks that was really helpful... Glad i clicked on this link.
    May 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAbby
    It is indeed the most precise and most understandable analysis I've come across so far.

    I'm from Pakistan, where English Language is spoken and understood in the minutest majority.Understanding poetry of the 17th century is a challenge for someone like me.You've made it simple for me.

    A Great Big Thank You :-))

    June 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRukaiya Mukhtar
    This was a lifesaver, by far the easiest to read and understand analysis I have found! Thank you so much!!
    July 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelinda
    What a nice and detailed analysis! I was really impressed. Thank you very very much.
    Fan of Eng Lit. Thank you. My pleasure.
    May 13, 2012 | Registered CommenterJoe Nutt
    Thank you so much for this. I really needed an in depth analysis on this poem of Donne for my exams and i couldn't find anything that could help me understand his treatment of love both on a sensual and spiritual level. You have really helped me out thanks a lot.
    July 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAamina
    Aamina, I'm delighted you found it valuable.
    July 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoe
    As you mentioned I googled The Good Morrow analysis for a test. And wow, I must say that this was extremely helpful!
    October 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEnlightened soul

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