Like all of us in the morning, John Donne starts out angry at the sun. He feels way too good to be bothered by its shine and tells it to get lost and go bother other, lesser people. He tells the sun that love isn’t some slave to the sun’s movements or the changing of the seasons, so shove off, thank you very much.
Then he gets really cocky. He says he’s better than the sun, stronger than the sun, even, because he can just shut his eyes and make that bright star disappear entirely. In fact, he’s such a big deal that he tells the sun to look around and discover that the whole world resides right there in Donne’s bed.
He extends this idea, telling the sun that he and his lady are all the countries and kings in the world combined, that everything else in the world is just pretending to be them. He ends by pitying the poor old sun and telling it that its job just got easier. Because the whole world now consists of just this one room, the sun doesn’t have to travel. It only needs to shine on this couple and everything is bright and peachy
Lying in bed with his lover, the speaker chides the rising sun, calling it a “busy old fool,” and asking why it must bother them through windows and curtains. Love is not subject to season or to time, he says, and he admonishes the sun—the “Saucy pedantic wretch”—to go and bother late schoolboys and sour apprentices, to tell the court-huntsmen that the King will ride, and to call the country ants to their harvesting.
Why should the sun think that his beams are strong? The speaker says that he could eclipse them simply by closing his eyes, except that he does not want to lose sight of his beloved for even an instant. He asks the sun—if the sun’s eyes have not been blinded by his lover’s eyes—to tell him by late tomorrow whether the treasures of India are in the same place they occupied yesterday or if they are now in bed with the speaker. He says that if the sun asks about the kings he shined on yesterday, he will learn that they all lie in bed with the speaker.
The speaker explains this claim by saying that his beloved is like every country in the world, and he is like every king; nothing else is real. Princes simply play at having countries; compared to what he has, all honor is mimicry and all wealth is alchemy. The sun, the speaker says, is half as happy as he and his lover are, for the fact that the world is contracted into their bed makes the sun’s job much easier—in its old age, it desires ease, and now all it has to do is shine on their bed and it shines on the whole world. “This bed thy centre is,” the speaker tells the sun, “these walls, thy sphere.”
The three regular stanzas of “The Sun Rising” are each ten lines long and follow a line-stress pattern of 4255445555—lines one, five, and six are metered in iambic tetrameter, line two is in dimeter, and lines three, four, and seven through ten are in pentameter. The rhyme scheme in each stanza is ABBACDCDEE.
One of Donne’s most charming and successful metaphysical love poems, “The Sun Rising” is built around a few hyperbolic assertions—first, that the sun is conscious and has the watchful personality of an old busybody; second, that love, as the speaker puts it, “no season knows, nor clime, / Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time”; third, that the speaker’s love affair is so important to the universe that kings and princes simply copy it, that the world is literally contained within their bedroom. Of course, each of these assertions simply describes figuratively a state of feeling—to the wakeful lover, the rising sun does seem like an intruder, irrelevant to the operations of love; to the man in love, the bedroom can seem to enclose all the matters in the world. The inspiration of this poem is to pretend that each of these subjective states of feeling is an objective truth.
Accordingly, Donne endows his speaker with language implying that what goes on in his head is primary over the world outside it; for instance, in the second stanza, the speaker tells the sun that it is not so powerful, since the speaker can cause an eclipse simply by closing his eyes. This kind of heedless, joyful arrogance is perfectly tuned to the consciousness of a new lover, and the speaker appropriately claims to have all the world’s riches in his bed (India, he says, is not where the sun left it; it is in bed with him). The speaker captures the essence of his feeling in the final stanza, when, after taking pity on the sun and deciding to ease the burdens of his old age, he declares “Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere.”
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