The Sunne Rising

Donne - The Sunne Rising - John Donne #

Subject Matter The Sunne Rising: #

Donne lived during a time of great change; the challenge of new dogmas of religion as the power of the Catholic church giving way to reformers, the discovery of new worlds, the rise of empirical science… all giving rise to doubt.

Where, amidst such flux, was permanence to be found? The great love poems, such as "The Good Morrow" “The Sunne Rising,” “The Canonization, exalt the lovers into monarchs–indeed, into deities of an alternative universe given coherence by their relationship.

When John Donne eloped with Ann More, her father urged Sir Thomas Edgerton to dismiss Donne and he spent two months in prison.

After his release, the marriage was ratified and for the next ten years John and Anne Donne lived in disgrace on the fringes of the court in poverty.

This poem can be seen as a rationalisation, a justification for their life – if they have each other, what need have they for anything else. However, we should not assume the speaker is necessarily Donne or that he is serious. Like all his poetry, Donne is playing to the gallery and more interested in demonstrating his flair for language and the use of outlandish comparisons called Conceits.

The Sunne Rising #

Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Thy beams so reverend, and strong
Why shouldst thou think?

I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long.
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and to-morrow late tell me,
Whether both th’ Indias of spice and myne
Be where thou left’st them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, “All here in one bed lay.”

She’s all states, and all princes I;
Nothing else is;

Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honour’s mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere.

Tone - The Sunne Rising: #

As the sun represents the revered source of life, warmth and fertility, the pinnacle of the universe, the abrupt arresting opening lines, “Busy old fool, unruly sun” is decidedly impudent; to address the Sun in such a brazen shameless manner is defiant, impertinent, chiding, sassy or cheeky. Mocking the pinnacle of the celestial world is decidedly irreverent. “Heliolatry” is the worship of the sun, a practice that dates back to ancient civilizations.

As the sun regulates time and seasons, it can hardly be unruly; yet to the unemployed, languishing lovers, time is not that important.

The tone appears harsh, scornful, contemptuous and patronising but jestingly modulates and becomes more reasonable and conciliatory even though his persuasive masculine arguments retain their mock commanding tone.

Donne’s distinctive voice pre-supposes an audience; either a woman or God; not necessarily us. Reading these lines aloud provides a sense of drama, immediacy with gestures of impatient contempt for this intrusion of their secluded love nest.

According to T.S. Eliot:

Only Shakespeare can parallel the variety and distinctiveness of the voices Donne created (something Browning admired and imitated).

Themes - The Sunne Rising: #

As love makes the world go round, our love life can be more important than anything else. This poem represents the completeness and self-sufficiency of the two lovers.

Must to thy motions lover’s seasons run?”

Lovers are somehow removed from the constraints of ordinary people.

“She is all states and all Princes, I

Nothing Else is.”

Donne claims their status equates to that of all royalty; an outrageous preposterous assertion.

Donne perceives the hollowness of pretences of power, realising that all outward show is merely vanity.

King James I, the father of Charles I, was a Stuart who succeeded Elizabeth I in 1603, staunchly believing in the Absolute Power of Monarchs and the Divine Right of Kings. His delusional belief rested on the assumption that he equalled God. Donne sees through this.

All honour’s mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus;

The fact is that despite the social contracts, real life is often experienced most fully at the level of ordinary existence rather than by vaunted authority.

Poetic Technique - The Sunne Rising: #

This poem is jestingly combative and though the arguments appear far-fetched, they are pressed in a logical manner.

He claimed:

“I did best when I had least truth for my subjects”.


The life of lovers is compared to those condemned to find more pedestrian activities.

The regulated time of the outside world of school boys, apprentices huntsmen and ants; with the timelessness and freedom of lover’s world.

The macrocosm of the spheres of the sun with the microcosm of their little world, which Donne cheekily claims is superior.

Donne inverts the traditional hierarchies so that lovers outrank royalty and the sun.

Images: #

Rags of time - the seconds, minutes, hours compared to years, decades, centuries and epochs. The trivia of work, contrasted to the significance of love-making. Lovers are not governed by time; for them there are no deadlines. Time is not important to them.

Woman’s eyes can out shine the sun

In a rare Classical Allusion, Donne refers to the sun standing still both in Pagan myth (Alcmene) so Zeus can extend their love making and in Bible to Joshua so he can finish his battle against the Amorites. (Joshua 10:13)

In the hierarchies of the universe, the sun rules supreme and yet Donne has the audacity to call it “unruly”, an impudent accusation, bold and striking. It is usual in Love Sonnets to refer to the sun in respectful and dignified terms.

The sun is busy when they want to relax, it is old and doesn’t appreciate the joys and delights of youth and the sun is a fool for disturbing them.

Bed – we seem to be sharing a bed with the couple which he claims is the axis; the centre of the world.

Kings – Donne repeatedly compares himself favourably with the position of a King:

“Goe tell Court huntsmen that the King will ride.”

“Aske for those kings whom thou sawst yesterday

And thou shalt heare, All in one bed lay.”

The poet comes full circle; at first rejecting the sun but in the end accepting it but on his terms.

Language features - Sunne Rising #

The language is forceful yet colloquial with a few archaic terms:

Unruly - difficult to control – can’t be ruled.

Saucy pedantic wretch – disrespectful lecturing fool.

Prentices - abbreviation of Apprentices, learning a trade.

Alchemy - ability to turn material into Gold – gradually being discredited by the rise of empirical science.

  1. Imposture or self deception

  2. Charlatan – self gulling dupes

  3. Elixir or philosopher’s stone

Rhetorical Questions:

Why dost thou thus…call on us?”

A playful note is evident in this line:

“Look and tomorrow late, tell me.”

(Don’t wake us up too early again tomorrow.)

Some words have changed their meanings or usage.

“Call county ants to harvest offices (chores?)

“Princes do but play us” (imitate?)

“In that the world’s contracted thus” (structured?)

Evaluation: #

Many would consider this Donne’s signature (most representative) poem for the sheer boldness of its presentation.

Is John Donne sexist in his approach to women?

“She is all states and all Princes, I

This perhaps Donne’s best achievement in playing the part of a libertine in asserting the supremacy of love over more pedestrian activities.