Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Sunne Rising

John Donne (1572 - 1631)

            Busie old foole, unruly Sunne,
            Why dost thou thus,
Through windowes, and through curtaines call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers seasons run?
            Sawcy pedantique wretch, goe chide
            Late school boyes, and sowre prentices,
    Goe tell Court-huntsmen, that the King will ride,
    Call countrey ants to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knowes, nor clyme,
Nor houres, dayes, months, which are the rags of time.

            Thy beames, so reverend, and strong
            Why shouldst thou thinke?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a winke,
But that I would not lose her sight so long:
            If her eyes have not blinded thine,
            Looke, and to morrow late, tell mee,
    Whether both the India’s of spice and Myne
    Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with mee.
Aske for those Kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,
And thou shalt heare, All here in one bed lay.

            She is all States, and all Princes, I,
            Nothing else is.
Princes doe but play us; compar’d to this,
All honor’s mimique; All wealth alchimie.
            Thou sunne art halfe as happy’as wee,
            In that the worlds’s contracted thus;
    Thine age askes ease, and since thy duties bee
    To warme the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy spheare.

~*~ ~*~ ~*~

[This is the fourth in a series on John Donne begun on Monday.]

This is my favorite of favorites. I almost listed it in the number 1 position in my list of ten favorites, but Chesterton's The Ballad of the White Horse is about my favorite person in the world, Alfred the Great, and it's a great work itself, so it got first place.

This is what I love best about Donne -- no commonplace metaphors for him, comparing his love to a flower or something trite like that. No sir, she's India with its spices and the West Indies with their gold mines, and more.

I said before that I don't like to assume that all his poems are biographical, but there might be a clue in this one: "Goe tell Court-huntsmen, that the King will ride." Donne married in 1601 during Elizabeth's reign -- James I became king a year and a half later, and I think this poem is celebrating the marriage bed.

More than that, I think it's a metonymy, celebrating marriage itself, and Donne was very happily married: "compar’d to this, All honor’s mimique; All wealth alchimie." That's another clue, by the way -- but more on that later.

Mr Walton tells us that Donne had inherited £3000 when his father died many years earlier. A year or so after leaving his law studies he decided to travel in Europe and, so in 1596, as part of the war with Spain, he joined the victorious expedition to Cadiz, which was led by the Earl of Essex and Sir Walter Raleigh among others. He also took part in the failed expedition of 1597 to the Azores.

Walton says that Donne spent some years travelling in Europe, including Italy, and meant to go to the Holy Land but the difficulties of travel and getting money forwarded made the pilgrimage impossible, something he always regretted. By 1598 he had become very familiar with "those countries, their laws and manner of government, and returned [to England] perfect in their languages."

The same year he was noticed by Sir Thomas Egerton who was Keeper of the Great Seal and Lord Chancellor of England. He recognized Donne's wealth of talents and took him as chief secretary, intending the position to lead Donne to other greater service to the State. Sir Thomas considered Donne a friend and "did always use him with much courtesy, appointing him a place at his own table, to which he esteemed his company and discourse to be a great ornament."

It was during this time that Donne met his future wife. In 1600, Lady Egerton died and her sixteen year old neice, Anne More, became mistress of Sir Thomas's household, presiding at his table. By 1601 Donne had become a Member of Parliament in addtion to his duties to Sir Thomas, but that year, Anne's father, Sir George More, Chancellor of the Garter and Lieutenant of the Tower, become aware of the growing affection between his daughter and Donne, and brought her home again to prevent anything coming of it. Donne was rising in the world, but he'd spent most of his fortune on travelling, books, and "dear-bought experience," so it wasn't a prudent match for Sir George's daughter.

However, before she was removed, Donne and Anne had made promises to each other and the time apart did not change their minds. They were secretly married at the end of 1601, but Sir George soon found out, and in his understandable fury convinced Sir Thomas to fire Donne. When Donne wrote to his wife to tell her this news, he signed his letter "John Donne, Anne Donne, Un-done."

Not satisfied with this, Sir George had Donne imprisoned until the marriage was proven valid. Donne attempted a reconciliation with his father-in-law, and while Sir George eventually forgave and grew to love him as a son, it was many years before he gave his daughter her dowry, and the couple lived in poverty.

Walton says that this imprudent marriage was the greatest mistake of Donne's life and that Donne himself recognized it, "and doubtless it had been attended with an heavy repentance, if God had not blessed them with so mutual and cordial affections, as in the midst of their sufferings made their bread of sorrow taste more pleasantly, than the banquets of dull and low-spirited people."

            She is all States, and all Princes, I,
            Nothing else is.
Princes doe but play us; compar’d to this,
All honor’s mimique; All wealth alchimie.
            Thou sunne art halfe as happy’as wee,
            In that the worlds’s contracted thus;
    Thine age askes ease, and since thy duties bee
    To warme the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy spheare.

4 comments :

  1. Your posts are helping me to appreciate Donne.

    Since I was only familiar with Death, Be Not Proud there is lots more to digest.

    Again your comments and tidbits are steering me appropriately.

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  2. I'm glad. As I mentioned in the comments to this post, up until recently I only knew two of his divine poems, so it's been wonderful getting to know his work better. I'm glad I waited this late in my life to do it though. I know I wouldn't have appreciated him earlier.

    The more I reread and think about "The Sunne Rising," the more I think it's about marriage as an ideal, and whether it contains any autobiographical elements is not so important.

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  3. I love this! Since we listened to Dana Gioia talking about Donne on the Mars Hill Audio Journal, my husband gave me a book of his poems, which I'm sure included this one, but I really haven't given the treasure-trove enough attention. Thank you for exploring the poem for us.

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    Replies
    1. I have an Everyman's edition of his complete poems in English (he also wrote poems in Latin, if memory serves) and I love it. The year I wrote this series I had been reading two or three a week from that book for several months -- I meant to read one a day but too many of them needed to be reread several times before moving on. So beautiful.

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