I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, til 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.
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 others, worlds on worlds have shown
Let us possess one world; each hath one, and is one.
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.
John Donne’s poem, “The Good Morrow” is a coming-of-age poem that is reminiscent of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”; the fifteenth-century Reader’s Digest version of “The Twilight Saga” love story, minus the vampires. It is a very intimate piece of work that feels almost too intimate to read.
The most likely setting of this poem is the “morning after”, so to speak. It begins in a voice that speaks his deepest thoughts of love aloud, partly to himself and partly to his lover, in a slow and peaceful way. “I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I did, til we loved?” (1-2) It’s a very close echo to Romeo’s declaration on thinking he was in love with Rosalind, only to find himself smitten with Juliet – “Did my heart love til now?” (Act 1 Scene 5)
It doesn’t take long to realize that they’ve already made love; John Donne adds an extra layer of earthy sexuality to the next line, with lots of imagery of children breastfeeding tied in the sexual phrase “country pleasures” (3). This gives an indication that these two lovers, as enraptured as they are currently with each other, are not new to physical love. This idea is also re-emphasized later in the poem when John Donne says, “If ever any beauty I did see, which I desired, and got…” (6-7)
The characterization of the poet as voice of the poem is so complete, that we the reader can almost imagine the conversation as it happens – picturing the poet in the bed with his lady, caressing her face with his dreamy gaze, perhaps pushing a stray hair out of the way as the two of them reminisce about their love the night before, about their lives before this moment. He remarks on how they “snorted [snored] we in the seven sleepers’ den…”, a reference to an older legend about seven youth who hid in a cave in the land of Decius from persecution and slept for 187 years. He reassures her that all his previous pleasures in life were nothing more than mere “fancies”, including his previous conquests, and every partner before now is reduced to “twas but a dream of thee.” (5,7)
The slow, smiling voice the poem is written in almost seems to have an audible heartbeat, the iambic pentameter creating a sort of “lub-DUB” sound that heightens the intimacy and closeness of this couple. The rhythm is not perfect as a Shakespearian sonnet or as a John Milton sonnet would hold a perfect rhythm, reducing the language to fit the form, but falters at some points, seeming to speed up and slow down.
It seems appropriate in this speeding up and slowing of the meter that the poet brings up themes of fear and death, even as he tries to get closer and closer to his love. He claims that the two of them hold no fear of each other; the only part of their love that could die is the part that is “improperly mixed” (19); in other words, the parts of them that are mortal. Through their perfect, fearless love, they can find immortality in each other.
There are comparisons to explorations of “sea-discoverers” and “maps” (12, 13) that remind us of the historical context of the world the poem is set in. The world John Donne lived in was a world of explorers setting sail for the New World in the West to find and conquer new lands. John Donne himself seems to want none of this, but only to “possess one world; each hath one, and is one.” (14) He wants only to explore this world of his lover and their new life together.
This is the burning, tragic love of Romeo and Juliet, the angst of Edward and Bella from Twilight, or the passion and otherworldly commitment of Heathcliff and Catherine from Wuthering Heights – the intensity of new love that either declines into comfortable lifetime love, or burns itself out in tragic ways, often with everything and everyone around it. Would he give out his life for his love, or would he come to earth and live with her as a normal person all his days? Or would he turn from her to burn with intensity for yet another? We can only guess at the fate of the two lovers in John Donne’s poem, immortalized forever in a private, passionate moment.