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The Good-Morrow by John Donne: Summary & Analysis

The Good-Morrow by John Donne: Summary & Analysis
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  • 0:00 Brief Synopsis
  • 1:34 Analyzing 'The Good-Morrow'
  • 4:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

You might've sent someone a 'shout-out,' but have you ever given anyone a 'Good-Morrow?' Learn more about John Donne's salutatory poem by that title in this lesson when you see it summarized and analyzed!

Brief Synopsis

You know how even a small amount of lead can be much heavier than you might expect? That's because lead is incredibly dense, and the same is true for Donne's relatively short, yet weighty, three-stanza poem, 'The Good-Morrow'.

The first stanza opens by posing a series of rhetorical questions that examine the narrator's life prior to knowing his true love and compares it to childhood and sleep. Donne employs an allegorical reference to the Catholic legend of the Seven Sleepers, which tells of seven early Christian children who slept in a cave for nearly 200 years to escape persecution. The poetic narrator then acknowledges that any pleasure he's experienced in his life up until this point was but a dream of his love that he encountered in that earlier 'nap' of his.

'And now good-morrow to our waking souls,' begins the second stanza, and ties into the poem's title and goal. The lovers' souls are noted as being joined, not out of jealous fear, but of pure love. The narrator dismisses the exploration of 'other worlds,' claiming all he needs is the 'one' world he and his love share as their own, since love 'makes one little room an everywhere.'

The final stanza highlights the perfection of the lovers' harmonious union, which is apparently so seamless that it makes them one inseparable being. While using geographical metaphors for death, the narrator then closes the poem with a claim to their immortality through the power and purity of their undying devotion to virtue and to one another.

Analyzing 'The Good-Morrow'

When we talk about sending someone a 'shout-out,' what we mean is that we're conveying a salutatory message, or perhaps even our congratulations to that person. What we have with John Donne's poem is a very similar situation. The hyphenated title 'The Good-Morrow' indicates that Donne isn't just talking about a particularly good day. Rather, he's identifying his work as a salutation - basically, a 17th-century shout-out. But to whom is this greeting addressed?

John Donne is known as one of the founding and leading members of a group of artists known for their metaphysical poetry: verse works of the 17th century marked by their use of complex imagery to explore primarily concepts of love or religion. 'The Good-Morrow' actually just happens to involve the intersection of both these concepts. In fact, so does First Corinthians chapter 13, in which St. Paul discusses the virtues of true Christian love. Why is this relevant? Well, it's the part of the Bible that Donne closely followed when he composed his poem. It's the day that these ideas of love and faith come together in harmony that the poet greets so heartily.

As many of us can probably recall from experiences of wanting new toys or lots of candy, childhood usually involves painful lessons in the art of delaying gratification. The image from the first stanza, of the children 'not (yet) wean'd' embodies this time in our development. Furthermore, the legendary Seven Sleepers were also children who reputedly slept until they were free from religious persecution, thus enabling them to mature both physically and spiritually. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul comments that, 'When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.' The poet decides, then, that he must put aside his childish, dreamlike, and lustful desires in order 'to pursue the true beauty' that is love beyond that of an erotic nature.

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