I have, on my shelves, The Norton Anthology of Poetry (Third Edition) edited by Alexander W. Allison et al. I got (absconded with it, really) the book from a close friend of mine during our college years. The anthology was assigned text for an English lit class; there are many pages with her handwritten notes next to the poem she was studying at the time. Needless to say, the book is many years old and has moved around the world with me. I often reach for it when I’m feeling restless, or happy or wistful, or sad – basically any mood for which poetry is either the best cure or the best complement. Invariably, of course, as I thumb through the volume I find myself reading one or two poems by John Donne (1572-1631), who remains one of my favorite poets. I’ve previously featured one of his holy sonnets.
Today’s poem, found on page 204 of the anthology, is The Good Morrow. It’s one of Donne’s best known poems. It speaks to the intensity and immortality of love. The poem is a variation of the typical morning love song, the aubade, which lovers sing to each other after a night of love. I love the part (in the first stanza) were the lover admits to having known other loves, only to quickly soothe his lover by saying that those loves were “but a dream of thee”. The alliteration in the poem is wonderful: were we not wean’d, snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den. The reduplication: love all love, worlds on worlds, each hath one, and is one. There are many other devices which means that the poem is better heard than read. So I’ve included a clip of the awesome Sir Richard Burton reading the poem. Really, enjoy!
The Good Morrow.
I WONDER by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved ? were we not wean’d 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.
(Notes from the Anthology: Seven Sleepers’ den: Seven early Christians, immured in the persecution of A.D. 249, were believed to have slept for nearly two centuries” and the line – Whatever dies was not mixed equally: “In earlier medicine, death was often considered the result of an imbalance in the body’s elements.)