The Sun Rising Summary by John Donne

The Sun Rising Summary by John Donne


An Introduction to the Poet:

John Donne (1572-1631), the most prominent poet of the metaphysical school of poetry, was born in London, into a Roman Catholic family when practice of that religion was illegal in England. His father was John Donne, a prosperous ironmonger and his mother was Elizabeth Heywood, the daughter of John Heywood, the playwright. He attended Oxford and Cambridge Universities. But he was unable to obtain a degree from either institution because of his Catholicism, since he could not take the oath of Supremacy required of graduates.

He joined the expedition of Essex for Cadiz in 1596, and for the Azores in 1597 where he wrote ‘The Calm’. Returning home, he became secretary to Lord Egerton and fell in love with the latter’s young niece, Anne More. In 1601, he secretly married Anne More, risking his worldly prospects. The marriage was happy, but he was imprisoned and dismissed from his job.

Many of his poems were written for wealthy friends or patrons, especially Sir Robert Drury, wh came to be Donne’s Chief Patron in 1610. Donne wrote the two Anniversaries, An Anatomy of the World (1611) and Of the Progress of the Soul (1612), for Drury. In 1610 and 1611he wrote two anti- catholic polemics: Pseudo-Martyr and Ignatius His Conclave. In 1615, he tookHoly Orders. James I appointed him a royal chaplain and he began to acquire a reputation as a finepreacher. Donne became unwell in 1630 and he died on 31 March 1631.

A superbly prolific writer, Donne has innumerable songs and sonnets, divine poems, satires, epigrams, sermons and other similar works to his credit. Some of his important works are A Nocturnall upon Lucies Day, A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, The Extasie, Devotions and Death’s Duell.

● Literary and Historical Context: Literary Context:

John Donne is often referred to as a metaphysical poet. These so-called ‘metaphysical’ poets did not classify themselves this way when they were writing, butthe 18th century critics Samuel Johnson and John Dryden grouped Donne with George Herbert, Andrew Marvell, and Henry Vaughn under this category because all of their poetry uses logic and elaborate metaphor or conceit to conceptualizemetaphysics – that is the way the mind and spirit form a relationship to material reality.

Donne’s death was only about 15 years after Shakespeare, so his poetry is rooted in some of the same Elizabethan court traditions. Onesuch tradition was the use of sonnets not only to declare love, but also to demonstrate poetic skill. Shakespeare and Donne bothwrote a lot, and among both of their best works are sonnets that are very playful and complicated. The Sun Rising is not one of Donne’s sonnets precisely, but it does contain some elements of the sonnet.

Donne, who became a minister later in life, is known especially for his equal skill at writing erotic poems and holysonnets. Many of the metaphors Donne uses in his erotic and devotional poetry are very similar. Forexample, when Donne wasvery sick, he wrote the holy sonnet Batter My Heart, Three-Person’d God. This poem is addressed to God. The speaker worriesthat, despite their love of God, they are too close to the devil to be admitted to heaven upon their death. The speaker ends thepoem by begging:

Take me to you, imprison me, for I,

Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,

Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

The closing line achieves an interesting paradox: God must “ravish” the speaker in order to keep them “chaste.” The fact that thisprofoundly religious paradox is achieved through a metaphor of sexual violence reveals that for Donne, sex, power, anddevotion are linked. The Sun Risingvividly shows this link as well. In this poem, sex allows the speaker to “rise” so that hispower is like that of God. Love and sex with a woman allow for the same kind of closeness to God that the speaker begging to be” ravished” by God wants.

The Sun Rising, appearing more playful than the holy sonnet,reveals that the speaker’s rise topower requires that he treat the body of the woman in bed with him like an empire, free for the taking. Believe it or not, though,Donne’s willingness to represent the bodies of women and to incorporate women into his conceits was somewhat revolutionaryin literature. Most aristocratic love poetry before Donne’s was written to or about absent women. Donne’s depiction of womenwho are not chaste, and his disinterest in shaming women for their sexual activity, may have helped pave the way for novels likeSamuel Richardson’s Pamela and Frances Burney’s Evelinain thefollowing centuryto begin exploring the idea of women’s bodily autonomy.

. Historical Context:

Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, we see the emergence of Protestant viewpoints. The Catholic Church was strictly hierarchical. The English abandoned this hierarchy during the reign of Henry VIII (1509-1547) in order to skirt the rule preventing Henry VIIIfrom annulling his marriage. The Anglican Church was established as a Protestant alternative to Catholicism, and otherProtestant churches began cropping up as well. By the time Elizabeth I was in power, during the second half of the 16th century, English Catholics had to go into hiding to avoid persecution. Among other features, Protestantism eliminated the priest asmiddleman between the individual and heaven, allowing for more individualizedrelationships with God.

That, being said, does not mean that the speaker’s ascent to God-like power in The Sun Rising was not bold. Many people, especially inCatholic parts of Europe, worried about the limits of the personal empowerment Protestantism allowed. The Sun Risingcertainly seems to test those limits. In the early days of the Protestant Reformation, Copernicus had put forth the theory ofheliocentrism, which held that the planets revolved around the sun rather than the earth. Some saw this scientific claim asblasphemous because it contradicted the biblical story of Genesis and went farther than humans should to understand theuniverse. In 1633, the same year The Sun Rising was published, Galileo was arrested in Italy for conforming to Copernicus’stheory of heliocentrism. Not only does this poem begin with the theory of heliocentrism, but it also reproduces the universal reorganization Copernicus did by placing not the earth, and not the sun, but the speaker at the focal point of everything’s orbit.

. Introduction to the Poem :

John Donne’s The Sun Rising is a Renaissance poem. It was published in 1633 after his death but the precise date when the poem was written is not known. The poem consists of thirty lines which are divided into three stanzas. It contains two embracing quatrains followed by a couplet. The poem is written with a witty style and much exaggeration. Donne is known for using imaginative writing and for being a metaphysical poet. The characteristics of this style are; witty humour, irony, the use of paradoxes and play with words. Themes such as love, geography and cosmology, romance and man’s relationship with God, were often used by metaphysical poets. Joan Bennet, in Four metaphysical poets, describes metaphysical poetry as poetry where ’emotions are shaped and expressed by logical reasoning, and both sound and picture are subservient

to this end. Words consecrated to poetry are avoided […] they prefer words in everyday use they are soberly engaged in commerce or in scientific speculation’. Murray Roston, in ‘The soul of the wit ‘a study of John Donne’, describes the style as follows a religious setting […] in alchemy, and in geographical exploration the tactile, measurable world of reality appeared trivial’.

Stanza Wise Summary :


The poem begins in the morning when the sun peeps through the windows of the vers bedroom; the speaker in an annoyed mood asks the sun why he is disturbing them. The speaker then tells him instead of troubling them, he can rush the school boy, der the ants for the business and the court huntsman about the king’s ride. The lover aims that their love knows no season, no months, no hours and no time. Time is the enemy for the lovers and they exceed the time. He says that love is above all worship. Lovers are not bound to time. They do not need any season to make love. It is the sun, who should watch for lovers not the vice versa; if lovers are busy in love-making, the sun has no right to disturb them.


In stanza two, the poet-lover doubts on the power of the sun, asking him if its beams are strong. He further says he can easily eclipse the sun beams by his winks, but he would not do because in doing so he would also miss the sight of his beloved. The speaker goes on rebuking the sun and tells him if he is dazzled by her beauty, go and set and come another day with the news about the kings, queens, and riches of the world. He also mentions the spices of East Indies and the gold mines of West Indies. He puts his beloved in juxtaposition to them. His beloved is spice and goldmine for him. If the sun wants to see, he can find the “spice and mine” in his beloved.


In the last stanza, the speaker starts praising his beloved asserting that she is his world and when they are together, they are in their own realm of the ecstasy. The speaker firmly says that he is like a king as he possesses the beauty and true love of his beloved. For him, all the honors and the wealth are nothing in comparison of his beloved. Pitying on the sun, the poet also points out weaknesses of the sun. It is alone and has no beloved. Moreover, it does not have the feelings of love; it also does not have emotions. Sun, thus, is also inferior to him. Duty of the sun is to give light to the world, says Donne but the sun has grown old now. The poet, his beloved and their room is the whole world; therefore, the sun can fulfill his duty by giving light only to their room. After doing so, the sun can do rest as he needs it in this age; “thine age askes ease”. So, all it has to do is to shine on the speaker’s bed where his beloved is lying. This way his job is easily fulfilled as for the speaker his beloved is the world and by shining on the bed it is shining on the whole world. Their bed is the center of the world and the walls of the room is the edges of the world.

Critical Analysis:

In the poem The Sun Rising, Donne begins by reprimanding the sun as a kind of elderly voyeur (‘busy, old fool’), then sends about his business, then accuses it of then dispatches it to look for both the Indias: and finally, contempt gives way to patronage. The sun is invited to perform its duties, more fitted to age, standing still The sunis not its true subject: contempt patronage for the sun is not its true emotional charge. Its true subject is the lady and its true emotion is love. Every insult to the sun is a complement to his mistress, every assertion of the sun’s weakness attests to her power. The literal argument is in fact a ‘pseudo-argument’, to quote L.A. Richards. It uses an apparent subject, the emotional attitude, which relates to the real subject and emotional attitude by systematic inversion. The pseudo-argument generates an apparent logic (the sun’s antics) and an appropriate emotion (contempt for the sun). The true argument is also logical, with the familiar and simple logic of love and generates love’s appropriate emotion-ecstatic homage.

The literal argument is often more than a pseudo-argument and circles back even in the first stanza to make a kind of sense in its own right. Donne’s imagery asserts that at certain moments, any man might be wrapped beyond mortality, in the eternal intimations of spiritual love. In calling the material world unreal, the poem is saying with Plato that even the world’s princes and potentates are mere shadows-an imitation intime of timeless ideals.

Lovers who ignore external pressures and realities must surely be conquered by them. Such is the theme of great romantic tragedies: such is the underlying cause of the sterility of the so-called ‘free-love’. Yet, the poem’s strange power is to cancel, or transcend or mock the obvious – it is hard to say which – perhaps through its suggestions that the sun and the lovers have actually exchanged roles (‘seasons’ are controlled by the lovers, while the sun is linked with the ‘motions’ of physical love). If the love is to outlast ‘seasons’, it must be released from the shrinking and sexual connotations of ‘contracted thus it requires a center’ not in the bed, but in the soul.

The impertinent sun has assumed that the lovers are as much subject to his motion as the world’s. The Sun’s business is to wake up schoolboys, apprentices to various trades, the court huntsmen to prepare for the king’s riding out and the ‘country ants’ to go harvesting. It is these which are subject to time, but

“Love, alike, no season knows, nor clime,

Nor hours, days, months which are the rags of time.”

All the images like the schoolboys, the apprentices, etc., have been taken from common life. The term ‘country ants’ has a dual meaning-the real ants who collect grains and store them in their underground granaries for winter and also the field labourers, taking ant as the symbol of labour, which brings to mind the wisdom of Solomon, a transition from the commonplace to the uncommon. This transition prepares the mind to take a flight from these realistic and pleasing images to the abstract and notional image

“…hours, days, months which are the rags of time.”

This sudden association of the commonplace and the familiar with the abstract and conceptual is a characteristic of metaphysical poetry. The second impertinence of the Sun is to think that its beams are “so revered and strong” that everyone should take notice of them, when actually the lover could “eclipse and cloud them with a wink”, he does not wink simply because he cannot suffer to lose the sight of the beloved even for that brief moment. The sun’s legitimate business is to go his diurnal round, and

“Look, and tomorrow late, tell me,

Whether both the India’s of Spice and Mine

Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.”

There are two or three points, which need comment. In an age in which the heliocentric nature of the universe had long been discovered and announced, Donne still refers to the sun going around the earth. In spite of his extra ordinary awareness of the scientific facts of his day, Donne was predominantly mediaeval in his thinking, or affected to be so when it suited his purpose. The aroma of Indian spices and the richness of Indian gold mines are all concentrated in the beloved who lies with him in the bed. What about the kings whom the sun saw yesterday? They too are here in this bed because each of the lovers is one hemisphere, and they together make one world, besides which there is no other world; and so, all the kings and their kingdoms must lie in this world, and, therefore, in this bed. The sun, returning “tomorrow late” will acknowledge these wonders, unless, of course, his eyes have been blinded by the brightness of the beloved’s eye. The word “late” is significant, so that the sun may not disturb them in their ecstasy early. This is the metaphysical poet’s way of saying that she is all fragrance, all richness and all brightness in one. But this is not enough. Further elaboration of the claim made in the second stanza that all kings of the world and their kingdoms lie in this bed, comes in the third and concluding stanza:

“She is all States, and all Princes, I,

Nothing else is.

Princes do but play us; compared to this,

All honour’s mimic, All wealth alchemy.”

The finality of “Nothing else is” gives everything in a nutshell – sufficiency of love, and the lover-poet’s self-assurance of his belief in this proposition. The theatrical stage and alchemy are the constant source of Donne’s ideas and imagery. If nothing else is besides the lovers and their love, what are princes, honoursand wealth? They are mere actors who “play us” all honour which proceeds from the princes is mimicry and all wealth is alchemy, which is only a hoax. This proposition is established not for the satisfaction of the lovers only but also for the benefit of the Sun. The Sun’s duty is to go round the world, giving warmth and light to every living thing. He is now old and needs rest, therefore, let his labours be curtailed. Since it has been established that all world and all kingdoms are concentrated in this bed:

“Shine here to us, and thou act everywhere;

This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere.”

The poem ends on a paradox: at first, the speaker was impatient at the appearance of the sun, and now he commands him to stay forever in the room. Sun is the symbol of life; and, therefore by asking the sun to be present round the bed, he expresses the wish that his love be immortal.

• The Speaker of The Sun Rising:

The speaker of The Sun Rising is never named nor gendered, but via context is most likely intended to be a man. This man wants to lie in bed all day with his lover, but the sun is getting in theway of this objective by rudely shining through the drawn bedroom curtains.

As the poem goes on, it becomes clear that by deflating the sun’s ego, the speaker also wants to elevate his own authority. Thespeaker does not reveal much about his social status, but he is probably fairly well off if he is still lying in bed past dawn. He alsoseems more worried about social expectations of productivity than about actually earning money or food for his table. It is thusnot through the social ranks that the speaker is desperate to rise. In fact, he claims early on to be more powerful already than aking; later, he even goes so far as to say that “princes do but play us.” Instead of social power, the speaker is after the kind ofcosmological power that the sun holds over the entire universe. As the sun rises, the speaker wants to rise even higher, reaching the infinite.

By the final stanza, he is not only calling the sun a busy person, but he is also claiming to be “all princes.” Instead of banishing thesun in favour of permanent night, the speaker redesigns the sun’s job and tells it to concentrate entirely on warming their bedroom.

In this way, the speaker and his lover get to enjoy the warmth of the sun without. Theirjob is to lie in bed and making love, and the sun’s job is to make the bed even more enjoyable and cosy.

• The Setting of The Sun Rising:

The setting of The Sun Rising is a bedroom where two lovers lay busy making love. Cultural references in the first stanza, such as “school boys,” “sour prentices,” “courthuntsmen,” “king,” and “country ants,” or rural farmers, support the idea that the bedroom, like John Donne, is located inRenaissance England. A reference in the second stanza to “th’ Indias of spice and mine” situates the bedroom globally, far awayfrom both the East Indies and West Indies. This part of the poem also situates the speaker within a colonial culture that profitsoff the exploitation of the East Indies and West Indies, which once again supports the idea that the bedroom is located in England, or at least Europe. However, the speaker wants to remove all this context, making the bedroom into an entire universe.




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