John Donne & the Metaphysical Poetry [Archives:2003/665/Education]

September 4 2003

Safar B. AlZahrani [email protected]
At the beginning of the seventeenth century began to appear a new movement in poetry by John Donne, who was born in 1572 in London, England. Donne was known as the founder of the Metaphysical Poets. These Poets are known for their ability to startle the reader and coax new perspectives through paradoxical images, subtle argument, inventive syntax, and imagery from art, philosophy, and religion using an extended metaphor known as a conceit. Donne reached beyond the rational and hierarchical structures of the seventeenth century with his exacting and ingenious conceits, advancing the exploratory spirit of his time.
This movement, which was called the Metaphysical poetry, had four poets: John Donne, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan and Andrew Marvell. These poets adopted to use the colloquial diction and the paradox in order to get the reader of the poem involved, sharing with the poet what he is feeling and trying to react against. This is seen in Donne's poem The Sun Rising when he says:

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.

In this poem the use of colloquial diction can be seen very clearly with the use of everyday language. This poem begins with a paradox where the poet rebukes one the greatest powers of nature involving the reader to participate the poet in his reaction against the sun. The reader will immediately ask: why is the poet talking like this against such a great power of nature? Why doesn't he give him much respect the way the previous poets used to give? In fact he scorns him by calling him old fool and unruly Sun only because he tried to wake them up by sending his rays through the curtains of their bedroom in which the poet was in a state of union with his beloved. Since the poet and his ladylove were celebrating their union they didn't want to be disturbed and because the sun did so, the poet didn't like that and rebuked him for doing so suggesting that the sun could have done any other thing other than disturbing their union. Here the poet starts telling the sun to go and call on the late schoolboys, prentices, huntsmen or country ants instead of disturbing them. In fact the poet is dictating the sun and he is not accepting the interference of the sun in their affairs by announcing that it is now morning, which ,in fact, indicates that it is the end of their union. The poet and his beloved have their own universe with their own timing. And the sun need not interfere in their affairs and impose any beginning or end to the poet's universe.
The poet says that he can eclipse the sun with a wink but he doesn't want to lose the sight of his beloved even for a second, because he considers that waste of their precious time. The joy, which he is experiencing, makes him feel that his beloved is all he wants from life. She is all states and all princes and he considers anything else as unreal and unable to give him any pleasure. Then again he addresses the sun when saying: though you are shining on the whole earth but you are only half happy as we are. He says also that he is old and has reached an age in which he needs only ease and nothing else. Then the poet suggests something to the old and very tired sun to just stick to the universe of the poet and his lover and warm them so that they can enjoy themselves more and more. In this case the sun would be performing a great job, because the whole world would be warmed out of the warmth of these two lovers in their own universe. However, we notice that the poet is talking about two worlds; the lover's timeless world and the world that is governed by the sun. The poet dictates the sun and does not accept his interference in their universe.
When we have a closer look at this poem we notice that there is a clear change in the tone of the poet. In the first part the poet rebukes the sun. He uses a harsh language to address the sun, while in the last part of the poem we notice the change in the tone. The poet begins to sympathize with the sun by suggesting that since the sun has grown older and older and has become tired, he can stick to the universe of these two lovers who are celebrating their union and the job of the sun, which is to warm the world, is fully achieved through the warming of these lovers.