‘The Good-Morrow’ by John Donne was published in 1633 in his posthumous collection Songs and Sonnets. The poem is generally considered to be one of Donne’s first. It has also been categorized as a sonnet even though it stretches to twenty-one lines rather than the traditional fourteen. The poem is divided into three sets of seven lines that conform to a rhyming pattern of ababccc.
This is a very unique pattern of rhyme that is only made more interesting by the varying pattern of the meter. The majority of the lines contain ten syllables but each stanza ends with a line of twelve syllables. This variation was likely done to maintain a reader’s engagement with both the narrative and the text itself.
It is also interesting to note how the stanzas are divided within the seven lines. The first four lines introduce something about the speaker’s love. While the next three reflect more deeply on the topic and sometimes provide an answer to a previously posed question.
Summary of The Good-Morrow
The poem begins with the speaker noting how his life, and his lover’s, did not truly begin until they met. Up until they came together they were like children suckling from their mother’s breasts. He knows now that any pleasure he has previously was fake. His current love is the only real thing he has ever experienced.
In the next stanza, he describes how there is no way for their love to fail because it controls everything he sees. His whole life is driven by it, therefore he has no reason to want anything outside of their small bedroom. The poem concludes with the speaker stating that their love is balanced like a healthy body. Their emotional and physical states are connected so deeply that nothing can go wrong.
Analysis of The Good-Morrow
I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?
But sucked 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.
In the first stanza of ‘The Good-Morrow’, the speaker begins with three questions. They all inquire into the state of his and his lover’s lives before they were known to one another. He wonders allowed, addressing his lover, what “by my troth” (or what in the world) they did before they loved. This question and those which follow are rhetorical. He does not expect a real answer.
In the next line, he asks if they were “not weaned till then.” He does not believe the two were truly adults, separated from their mother’s milk until they met. Their lives did not begin until they gave up “country pleasures.” They became more sophisticated and less dependent on childish pleasures.
In the fourth line, he asks if they were sleeping like the “Seven Sleepers.” This is a reference to a story regarding seven children buried alive by a Roman emperor. Rather than dying, they slept through their long entombment to be found almost 200 years later. It is like the speaker has his lover were in stasis until they could be unearthed at the proper time and brought together.
The final three lines of the stanza answer his previous questions. He says, yes, of course, everything he said is the truth. Anything he experienced before getting with this current lover was not real. It was only a fancy.
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.
The second stanza is structured in a similar way in which the first four lines introduce a reader to another aspect of the relationship. He describes how now, in their “good-morrow’ they will live in happiness together. There will be no need to “watch…one anther out of fear.” Their relationship is perfect.
In the following lines, the speaker is proving that any temptation outside is worthless. His eyes are controlled by love, therefore everything he sees is transformed by his adoration. He speaks of a small room that contains everything on earth. There is no reason for him to leave the bedroom he shares with his lover.
The next three lines make use of anaphora with the repetition of the starting word “Let.” The speaker is telling his lover that now that he has this relationship the rest of the world means nothing. The explorers can go out and claim anything and everything they want to. He will be happy to “possess one world” in which they have one another.
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 mixed equally;
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.
The final stanza of ‘The Good-Morrow’ begins with the speaker looking into his lover’s eyes. There he can see his own face and he knows her face appears in his eyes as well. Their heartfelt connection is evident within their faces.
The next lines continue to refer to their bodies/ Donne makes use of conceit, one of the techniques for which he is the best know. In this case, he is comparing their faces to two hemispheres. Unlike the hemispheres of the actual world, their facial hemispheres are perfect. There are no “two better” in the universe. There is no “sharp north” or “declining west.” Donne’s speaker sees himself and his lover as soulmates, they are the other’s missing half.
The last three lines speak on how a lack of balance can cause death. This is likely a reference to the medieval science of humors in which one’s health was determined by an equal mix of blood, bile, etc. He uses this metaphor to make clear that their love is balanced physically and emotionally. Their perfect balance is accomplished due simply to the presence of the other. It is the combination of their emotions that keeps them together.