Love in “The Sun Rising” is immediate and romantic; remember, he is writing this just as he is waking up with his beloved. It’s also the sort of love that makes you feel invincible, like you could throw down with
an MMA champ or the Hulk. After all, we’re talking about the kind of love that makes the speaker feel like he can pick a fight with the sun. The dude literally thinks that he and his lover are the center of the
universe.The speaker’s brazen attitude about his love shows that it is a feverish, immature sort of love.The speaker has allowed love to shut off his ability to see anything else in the world. That might sound
romantic, but it’s not a sustainable way to live.
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run? (4)
It’s a rhetorical question, but maybe one that we should try to answer: does love have to answer to the demands of time? Or does it last forever, no matter how old and wrinkly you get.
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time. (9-10)
The speaker thinks that love will always stay the same, that nothing in the outside world can affect love. We’re sure he’d like to believe that, but is that really true? Donne also commonly uses lists when he
wants to make a point, and we must say—it’s a pretty effective device.
Thy beams, so reverent and strong
Why shouldst thou think?
I could cloud and eclipse them with a wink
But that I would not lose her sight so long (11-14)
Yeah, if you can really convince yourself that the sun just disappears when you wink, you’re ego-tripping. But hey, it’s all out of love, as line 14 reminds us. And it also calls to mind those other philosophers of
love, Aerosmith: “I don’t want to close my eyes.”
Questions About Love
In the first stanza, how does the speaker show that he believes himself superior to others because of his love?
What are some of the ridiculous claims about love that the speaker makes?
Much of the imagery in the second stanza has to do with sight and seeing. What might that tell us about the sort of love the speaker has?
What do you think of the speaker’s claim in the final stanza? What does that tell you about how his love has affected him?
Do you think it’s okay to be boastful about love?
Theme of Dissatisfaction
Sure, “The Sun Rising” is a love poem, but you’ll notice the speaker never actually talks to his main squeeze. Instead, he’s whining at the sun to leave him alone. Mostly, that’s because he doesn’t want the
night to end. He doesn’t want to rejoin the world. Hey, speaker, we never said love was easy. It’s full of disappointments.
Busy old fool, unruly sun (1)
We’ve all said something along these lines to our alarm clocks. We can picture the speaker waking and getting upset that he’ll have to get up and at ’em. And his frustration is made even more emphatic by the
trochee that starts off the line.
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us? (2-3)
This is really just a development of the first line, but it specifically accuses the son of deliberately taking away his happiness. Hey, buddy, it’s not like the sun meant it.
Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus. (25-26)
Sure, this quote seems like it’s happy boasting, but remember that the speaker is now trying to convince the sun to linger around and let them stay in bed forever. The whole argument is getting more
desperate—he knows no matter what he says, it’s only a matter of time until they will have to get up and face the real world—with clothes on, hopefully.
Questions About Dissatisfaction
What if you pretended the sun was, say, his mom? How much would his language change?
If love is, as he says, impervious to time, how do you think he feels when the sun rises? What happens to his love, really?
By the end, the speaker has changed his mind and wants the sun to shine. Is he settling or does he really think he has won the argument? In other words, is he satisfied?
Theme of Community
We aren’t just individuals—we are part of a larger society, and John Donne won’t let you forget it. Still, “The Sun Rising” is a lot about a speaker’s desire to (even temporarily) escape the responsibilities and
restrictions of the outside world and just experience his love. You know, without all the meddling from friends and family.
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court huntsmen that the King will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices. (5-8)
The speaker wishes the sun would leave him alone and go bother other members of the community. He is condescending toward the outside world—while they are bound by time and seasons, he and his
lover are not. His angry tone is also conveyed by the harsh consonant sounds.
She’s all states, all princes I. (21)
This metaphor shows that the speaker believes his little private world transcends the public world. Who needs politics, baby, when I’ve got you? That reversed syntax structure is called a chiasmus, by the
way, if you want to get technical.
Princes do but play us; compared to this
All honor’s mimic, all wealth alchemy. (23-24)
In the speaker’s view, not only is the rest of society irrelevant, it’s also fake. This squares with someone who is infatuated, though. How could anyone think of doing paperwork when they’ve found true love?
Questions About Community
What different elements of society show up in the first stanza? Do you see a pattern to the speaker’s list?
What do you think is more important: society (meaning economies, governments, scientific discovery) or individual love? How would you argue for or against the speaker in this regard?
Do you think Donne’s illicit marriage might have to do with his feelings about society’s encroachment on love? How so?
- “The Sun Rising” by John Donne… Overall Summary Notes for Waec/neco Literature Exams(114) (lagosbooksclub.wordpress.com)
- Detailed Revision Notes (stanza 1) of “The Sun Rising” by John Donne for Waec/neco Literature Exams(115) (lagosbooksclub.wordpress.com)
- Detailed Revision Notes (stanza 3) of “The Sun Rising” by John Donne for Waec/neco Literature Exams(117) (lagosbooksclub.wordpress.com)