An Essay on Rising Sun and Song by John Donne – Literature
Recently in our English classes we have been looking at two poems by the London born poet John Donne. The son of a wealthy iron monger, john was born in 1572 but died at a
fairly young age after contracting the lung disease tuberculosis. He was an incredibly famous poet, especially in the English literature circle as he mostly did love poems or religious poems towards the end of his career.
In my coursework I will be looking at two of his better known poems, “Rising Sun” and “Song”. These are both love poems written by john just when he starts a relationship and just when he has ended one in unpleasant circumstances. I feel that john must have been pretty fed-up with relationships as in 1601 he became a priest. This is about the time he started writing religious poems more regularly than love poems but john was also very good at writing religious poems as well. John sadly died in 1631 on the 31st of March.
The first poem I will be looking at is “Rising Sun”. The poem is an “aubade”, this is a poem which was written to praise the dawn of day, and these poems were very popular in the 17th century. John wrote this poem in dedication of the love that he felt for his girlfriend in 1601. It could be connected to how the sun rises as he wakes up after the first night with his girlfriend. But as he does so he gets quite angry at the fact the sun has woken him up then he starts off by telling the sun to go right around the world and wake up everybody else and then maybe it can come back into his bedroom. By the end of this poem the reader gets the impression that john feels his love for this woman is more important than the sun.
The poem is opened up very suddenly and confidently, this confidence is taken on all throughout the poem as john feels he needs to belittle or put down the big and important things, just to compare how big and important his love is for his girlfriend/ at one point in the poem john calls the sun a “busy old fool” as he points out that every morning the sun wakes people up even if they don’t want to. Throughout the poem there is a constant question being asked, this is why do lovers have to follow the same rules as everybody else? and also why do lovers have to be subjected to seasons? As he points out that their love serves no seasons or time alike. Throughout the poem you get the impression that john is angry or bitter that the sun of all things had to wake him up. This is john very cleverly separates himself and his lover from the majority of England, he does this by stating all of the people in England from apprentices to school boys, then he tells the sun to wake them up as their lives are not as important as his and his partners.
In the last paragraph I picked up on the fact that john told the sun to go and wake up the entire population of England, this is the effect of exaggeration on a very large scale. John likes to exaggerate in his poems to try and get his point across a bit better, he does this in “Rising Sun” and also “Song”. This technique is called hyperbole. While John was writing this poem he decided to base it on how the solar system works (based on what the majority of people thought at the time). This is that the earth is the centre of the universe and all starts and planets orbit it. Even though John was well educated and probably knew this information to be incorrect it worlds well with the poem as all throughout we get the impression that John feels that the earth is centre of the universe and his bedroom is at the centre of the Earth. This poem is really far-fetched and at times childish, but the reader isn’t meant to take this to heart as john has wrote this in celebration of his love and not as a hard hitting piece of English literature.
In the previous paragraph I picked up on the fact that John exaggerates in his poems and also to put down or belittle things. A perfect example of this comes at the end of the first stanza when john says that love or even why should love have to serve time like everything else or even go through seasons as love is far too special to be subject to the rule. John is trying to say that lovers are in a timeless place and that time is not important as he refers to it as a big piece of cloth which has been ripped up into piece to make hours minutes and seconds.
In the second stanza John incorporated a wider view other than just England. Straight away John targets the sun to pick on, just to prove how great his love is. He does this by saying however powerful the sun is or however important he can just eclipse it by closing his eyes, but he doesn’t want too as he wouldn’t be able to look at his girlfriend. In the second part of the stanza this is when he includes the rest of the world into his poem which in the 17th century most people thought only went as far as east and West Indies. He then tells the sun to get the countries most valuable products, but even then the sun wouldn’t have anything as special as what john has got.
At very start of the third stanza john targets the most influential people and probably the most powerful ones in England in the 17th century. He starts the third with the line “shes all states, and all princes, I”. This means that his partner is more important than the political powers (states) and also the royal ones (princes). To follow this up john then writes a short sentence for effect, “nothing else is”. This is a very bold statement as he is saying no question my love is better than the most powerful things in England. This sentence along with the opening line gives the third stanza a very confident and brash opening, just like the third stanza john starts with a very hard hitting line which gets the readers attention, but also gives them something to think about. I feel that john has done a good job with this poem as the first stanza was a very hard piece of writing to follow-up but he has managed to keep the reader interested.
John uses the ideas of pretence and empherall in the last stanza. John then says “honours mimic and all wealth alchemy”, John means that all the honours that one man can get and all the money he can accumulate are worthless if he has not experienced love.
In “Rising Sun” the sun wakes John up in the morning as he is trying to sleep, he then tells it to leave his bedroom and go to wake other people up in England. After his rant it works out that John has told the sun to wake up the entire population of England. John then says don’t just wake up the people of England, make it the entire world. After the sun has done a full circle, John invites it back into his bedroom. By doing this he suggest that he has the power to tell the sun to go away and he has this power as he is in love. Throughout the poem it is basically just one big comparison, as the sun is going round the world and visiting place with vast riches and worldly goods. John is saying that those things are nice but not as good as the feeling of love. When john ends this poem by saying “this bed thy centre is, these walls thy sphere” he is putting his bedroom at the centre of the world. If you think back to the poem it is based upon the geocentric belief of the universe, and upon this basis we get the impression that john feels his bedroom is at the centre of the universe too. As the suns job is to warm the world John says “to warm the world, that’s done in warming us”, this means that this can be achieved by not warming throughout the world but just warming our bedroom.
I am now going to look at the second poem, “Song”. This is a complete contrast to “Rising Sun” as john wrote this at the end of his relationship. In the poem John uses exaggeration as; he did in the previous poem, to prove his point. Many poets used exaggeration at this time. In “Rising Sun” John’s argument is that there is nothing better than love but in “Song” John asks “can you find a woman that is both beautiful and faithful”. It is clear from looking at “Song” that John has lost his naïve views of love that he possessed in “Rising Sun”. His confidence in the power of love has been waned and now he appears more cautious and almost bitter. However, it is not John’s intention to appear bitter or angry to the reader and this is apparent in the vocabulary and tempo of the poem.
In the first stanza of “Song” it is just one big list of impossible tasks. John says “go and catch a falling star” this is impossible as they are far away and far too fast. He also says “get with child and mandrake root”. A mandrake root that bears an uncanny resemblance to a human being, superstition has it that mandrake roots only grow where semen lands. He then carries on with the list saying “tell me, where all past years are” and “who cleft devils foot”. He says “teach me to hear mermaids singing”, myth has it that when pirates are at large there would be a group of mermaids sitting on a congregation of rocks in the pacific ocean singing beautiful songs which would lure the pirates towards the rocks, causing their ships to run aground. There was also a myth that if you heard mermaids singing you would go insane. This line works well with the idea of the poem as John is implying that beautiful women are only out to do one thing, which is to wreck as many men’s lives as they possible can and leave them with nothing. In the next line I feel John incorporates his own feelings into the poem, he writes “or keep off envy’s stinging”. This tells me that his partner has been unfaithful to him and he feels envious or jealous. He doesn’t want to feel these emotions but it is impossible not too if your partner has been unfaithful. John ends the firth stanza on a bitter note “and find – what wind – serves to advance an honest mind”. John is trying to say that in love you don’t get any reward for being faithful.
In the second verse john uses time and scale distance just like he did in “Rising Sun”. In “Rising Sun” john tells the sun to go all around the world picking up all the riches it can find, so he can compare them to what he had got then. In this stanza of the poem John is addressing a man to ride over 27years to each end of the world and back until he gets old, expressed by john as he says white haired. And he won’t find a woman that is both beautiful and faithful. This again is a brilliant example of exaggeration on a wider scale, both of these techniques have been used in the two poems and they both incorporated using each end of the world as the furthest possible limit. But both use it to prove totally different points, one very happy, one very negative and the other very positive.
John ends the poem ‘‘song’’ very well in my opinion. He says ‘‘if you can find a women who is both beautiful and faithful then tell me, because it would be a pilgrimage to get to her’’. I like the fact that john calls his search for this special kind of women a pilgrimage, as you normally associate pilgrimages as a sacred once in a life time journey in which you get all that you have ever wanted. John then put a semi-colon after this line. This is a very clever idea as it will raise the tension and excitement in the reader. He then follows this up by saying you know what don’t even bother because, by the time I’ll have got there she would have been unfaithful already. That line gives me the impression that john is fed up with love and he doesn’t even want to try to find faithful women. One of the main reasons I like the poem ‘‘song’’ is because of the last stanza, normally the poet who is writing a love poem after a break up starts off really upset but gets more happy and cheery as the poem goes on. But not in this one, john starts off bitter and angry and carries it on all throughout the poem.
For my final paragraph I will be summarising the two poems. It might sound strange but they are both very similar and also are very different. The two poems use the hyperbole technique and also incorporate distance to prove there points. Both poems have been wrote as a declaration of what john is felling at that time, in ‘‘rising sun’’ john is overjoyed that he is in love and there is nothing better but in ‘‘song’’ it is a much more sombre mood as he has ended that relationship. I like both of the poems I like the fact that in ‘‘rising sun’’ john has the cheek to belittle the sun, but I like johns bitterness in ‘‘song’’. Not one of the two poems are amazing but I do have my favourite and it would have to be ‘‘rising sun’’ I like the fact that john has the cheek to belittle the sun arguably the most powerful thing in the world, and I also like the way he but himself above every one in England. Even though ‘‘song’’ is enjoyable I feel it is just a bit too repetitive at times and maybe a bit childish and easy too understand. Out of the two poems my favourite would have to be ‘‘rising sun’’.