Analysis of A Poem The Great Morrow

Categories: Poems

The poem "The Great Morrow" by John Donne mentions the pleasures of love when one has found the best person. It also mentions the naivete and dissipation youth prior to coming into the complex knowledge of the love that life can bring. The poet utilizes a variety of literary gadgets to decorate the poem, producing numerous images through using prolonged metaphors and descriptions. The state of mind of the poem is also developed through this language, and he expresses the complexity of the transition from youth to adulthood through such stylistic efforts.

The poet also utilizes allusions, apostrophe, significance, foreshadowing and several other literary types that serve to infuse his poem with significances and beliefs. The speaker improves the love he explains through the multiplicity of devices contained within the couple of lines, and in so doing enriches his readers through granting them a large scope of the enthusiasts' experiences. The poem is divided into three septets, which use an alternate rhyme scheme for the first four lines (quatrain) and then a parallel rhyme scheme for the last triplet.

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The lines are composed in iambic pentameter; and though the poem is not written strictly in sonnet form, the style is reminiscent of the sonnet as each verse represents exactly half the variety of lines that would be found in a sonnet. The rhyme scheme itself is a mixture of both Shakespearian and Petrarchan plans. The alternate and parallel rhymes show that which is found in the Shakespearian sonnets.

On the other hand, the department of the lines for the rhymes into a quatrain and a triplet (4/3) resemble rather the Petrarchan, which is divided into sections including lines that rhyme in a 4/4/3/ 3 (2 quatrains and two triplets) pattern (Stageberg, 1948; Vendler, 1997).

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Donne starts the poem with an oath that immediately informs the reader to the genuineness of the speaker's heart as he utters the words. He uses the word "marvel" to represent a pensive mood, however the words included in the first two lines emphasize likewise a different kind of wonder.

The speaker expresses his awe at what could have occupied his time in the days before he met his love. He wonders how he could not have felt his life as empty then as he now knows it must have been, since what it had lacked has now made itself known to him. He goes on to use a metaphor that compares him and his love (before they met) to children who had not yet been weaned. The use of the idea of weaning calls to mind the image of two young persons who had remained permanently in the sucking stage of infancy for many years before coming to the elevating knowledge of love.

Donne goes on to extend the metaphor, as he represents them as having “sucked” on the idyllic pleasures of the earth. In so doing, he represents that the two in their youth had hardly developed throughout over the many years they spent as youths, as they merely exchanged one lactating mother (their own biological ones) for another in the form of nature. This use of metaphor highlights the extent of these lovers’ immaturity before they find love. Donne also goes on to compare the youth of the speaker and his lover to the blissful ignorance that comes with sleep.

He adds a tint of delirium to their characters at this time as he describes them as having “snorted […] in the Seven Sleepers’ den” (line 4). This brings to mind more than just an innocent image of sleep, however, as it also gives the idea of being drugged. The idea of snorting may be detached from that of snoring and be rediscovered through comparison with the method of taking such a drug as opium. Therefore, the bliss of their youth is seen as an illusion created by an opium dream, which may have been perpetrated upon them by the wiles of Mother Nature who sought to distract them from life’s true pleasure: love.

This idea is supported in the subsequent lines where the speaker says all the pleasures nature provided were but fancies, and all beauties but a dream or precursor to his new-found love. The second septet of the poem is devoted to the description of the psychological condition of these two persons who have now been awakened to love. The speaker greets both himself and his lover with the phrase “good morrow,” and in so doing hands them precisely the greeting one gives to those who have just awakened from sleep (Bell, 2003).

In fact, he describes the two as “waking souls,” and this description goes precisely to the heart of the how their “waking” should be interpreted. It is not a physical sleep from which they are now waking but a psychological one. Their souls, which had before been taken captive by the soporific arts of nature and youth, have now become aware of life and the love that defines true living. This stanza rapidly abandons the idea of waking, yet remains a description of the lovers’ psychological state.

The two are intent upon each other as their eyes are fixed only on the face of the one they love. In fact, they are almost described as disembodied spirits, as it is the souls that are said to “watch […] one another” (line 9). The transformational nature of love can here be seen, as it transforms their souls into sense objects, making their psychological state more concrete than even their physical states at the moment. It dictates the impulses to which they respond (or, rather, fail to respond), as the Donne writes, “For love all love of other sights controls” (line 10).

The transformational nature of their love can also be seen in its ability to change the most mundane physical locations into a paradise worthy of being the setting of their love. This love is capable of making “one little room an everywhere” (line 11), according attributes of infinity to a very finite place. This too highlights the psychological state of these two lovers, who consider their prospects to have widened infinitely since having discovered their love (Bell, 2003).

At this point the speaker begins to make allusions to certain vocations that highlight the far-reaching aspects of the love to which these two people are becoming oriented. Reference is made to sea-discoverers who have gone to new worlds, and this can be compared to these two persons who have discovered a new world super-imposed upon their old one and filled with new pleasures. The significance of the sea in this allusion is the immensity of this water body and the unknown aspect of what it contains.

This symbolizes the life that these two now face, with the immensity of their love and the unknown aspects of what they will face in the future (Bell, 2003). However, their eagerness to tackle these unknowns may also be compared with those sea-farers who feel at one with the sea and are more at home there once they have discovered it. The idea of love having super-imposed a new world upon the lovers’ old world is a striking parallel image that is often repeated in this second stanza.

Donne writes, “Let maps to other worlds on worlds have shown” (line 12), and this demonstrates how the new configuration that the lovers’ lives now take on has obliterated the world that they had once lived in. The new world in which they now live has so effaced the old that they wonder at having lived at all in the previous one. This is compared to a map that has been redrafted to take into consideration sea-farers’ new discoveries, and which has now made the previous maps obsolete. In fact, such maps have proven that what had been the status quo was a lie, and that beliefs held before had been erroneous.

This is also true of these lovers, as their new life infused with love has replaced their previous one and revealed the lies that they had been living (Bell, 2003). The two then decide to live in this new world where their love has been discovered. The speaker even goes as far as to compare their union as the meeting and melding of two worlds: “Let us possess one world; each hath one and is one” (line 14). This idea is also prefigured in the sea-faring metaphor where Old World enters another world and creates a New World. The depth to which their union runs is introduced in the third stanza.

The two seem to have melted into each other and become indistinguishable. The poet uses the image of a mirror, and somehow likens the face of each to that reflective instrument. Each lover is able to view his face in the countenance of the other through a natural phenomenon that allows the eye to act like a mirror. Yet, this image becomes more profound when the speaker asserts that their hearts are also visible in their faces. This transforms or modifies the metaphor of the eye as a mirror to the common one of the eyes’ being the soul’s window.

Their emotions are visible on their faces, in his lover’s face, the speaker is able to view his own emotions reflected as they fuse into oneness. Donne again appeals to the Old World/New World metaphor he uses earlier, but adds to that the use of paronomasia to compare that image to the two lovers. He writes, “Where can we find two better hemispheres” (line 17), and this alludes not only to the East and Western Hemispheres of the Old and New Worlds, but also the right and left hemispheres of the brains of these two lovers who find themselves so compatible.

Through extending this metaphor, they again declare themselves two halves of the same whole who, having been ignorant of each other, have now found their true destinies (Bell, 2003). They even consider themselves as having the ability to defy death because of the equality of their match. They are superior even to the earth and its “declining west,” as this implies the setting of a sun that has only just arisen for them. In the waking of their “good morrow” they are unable to view any hint of decline. Their love basks now in a sunlight that has no apparent intention of waning.

The eternal aspect of their love the speaker attributes to its strength and their compatibility. Donne writes, “Whatever dies was not mixed equally” (line 19), indicating a one-to-one aspect existing within their personalities that strengthens the ties that they have even against the decay of death. To their credit, it appears that the ability to survive death is credited not to their mortal bodies, but to the love that transcends all physical entities and launches itself into the realm of the eternal. The description is given as follows: “If our two loves be one, or thou and I love so alike that none can slacken, none can die” (lines 20-21).

This love defies death by adhering to its object in direct contrast to the way their youthful ignorance of each other had kept them both apart and consequently devoid of life. In being constantly aware of each other and adhering to the love they now share, they have the ability eternalize their love beyond the scope of their mortal lives. The poem by John Donne begins with a description of the lifelessness of these two loveless youths and ends by immortalizing them via their love. The use of metaphors, imagery, symbolism, foreshadowing and language has contributed to the richness of the work.

Within only 21 lines, Donne is able to capture several external ideas and weave them seamlessly into the poem to expand the scope of these lovers’ experiences. He has also used these devices to illuminate the psychological response that these two make to the discovery of their new love. The romanticism they express is also revealed through the use of poetic diction and allusions to such absolutes as immortality and unity. The poet also demonstrates his remarkable skill in infusing the poem with all these literary objects while maintaining a relatively strict form and structure.


  1. Bell, I. (2003). “Bethrothal: ‘the good morrow’. ” John Donne Journal: studies in the age of John Donne. 22: 23-30.
  2. Donne, J. (1999). “The good morrow. ” Norton Anthology of English Literature. Eds. Abrams, et al. Vol. 1. 5th Ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.
  3. Stageberg, N. C. (1948). “The aesthetic of the Petrarchan sonnet. ” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. 7(2): 132-137.
  4. Vendler, H. (1997). The art of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Updated: Apr 19, 2023
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Analysis of A Poem The Great Morrow essay
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