The Sun Rising

               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.

               Thy beams, so reverend and strong
               Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long;
               If her eyes have not blinded thine,
               Look, and tomorrow late, tell me,
         Whether both th' Indias of spice and mine
         Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, All here in one bed lay.

               She's all states, and all princes, I,
               Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honor's mimic, all wealth alchemy.
               Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
               In that the world's contracted thus.
         Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
         To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.

Writing Ideas

1. “The Sun Rising” is an aubade: a poem greeting the dawn, often involving lovers reluctant to separate. Using Donne’s poem as inspiration, write a modern aubade. For more contemporary models, read one of the following:
          “Aubade” by Amber Flora Thomas
          “An Aubade” by Joel Brouwer
          “Aubade” by Philip Larkin

2. In “The Sun Rising,” Donne speaks to the sun using apostrophe, a rhetorical device in which he addresses an inanimate object (the sun) as if it were a person able to respond. Using apostrophe, write your own poem addressing an imaginary or absent object as if it were present and able to reply.

Discussion Questions

1. How does Donne’s speaker feel about the coming of dawn? Which words or phrases best suggest his attitude?

2. How does Donne compare the sun to a person? In his personification, what sort of person does Donne suggest the sun is? Is his comparison reasonable or absurd? Why or why not?

3. Donne begins the poem by telling the sun to go bother “late school boys” and “country ants” because it can have no effect on love. Where else does Donne use wit, irony, or wordplay in the poem? What effect does it have on your understanding of the poem’s message?

What relationship exists between the public and private spheres in the poem, and how does Donne distinguish between them? Which realm does Donne seem to privilege?

Teaching Tips

1. Before teaching, review Stephen Burt’s poem guide. Also, have small groups of students research the following terms and share them with classmates before presenting the poem: John Donne, Copernicus, Galileo, Heliocentrism, Geocentrism, Aubade, Conceit, and Apostrophe; they can find the latter three terms defined in the Learning Area’s glossary, as well as a detailed biography of Donne linked next to the poem. Students may hyperlink their research terms to the poem to share on a class web site.

2. After paraphrasing the first stanza of the poem with your class, encourage students to read the text out loud multiple times as they work in small groups to paraphrase the other two stanzas, looking up words as necessary. Have volunteers from each group perform their paraphrase of the speaker’s address to the sun. Then in a large group debrief, create a class description of the moves Donne makes in each of the three stanzas of the poem. Start by asking what kind of speech act does the speaker perform in each stanza: warning, challenging, showing off, etc. What audiences are being addressed in each of the stanzas? How do these movements contribute to the overall meaning of the text?

3. Have students explore “Assumption of the Virgin,” the painting by Renaissance artist Lodovico Cigoli who was a close friend of Galileo’s. The first example of Galileo’s telescopic views of the moon to appear in visual art, the painting depicts the moon at the feet of the Virgin Mary. Have students discuss how scientific developments of the Renaissance may have shaped Cigoli’s painting and Donne’s imaginative portrayal of the speaker’s encounter with the sun in this aubade. Have them consider Donne’s speaker’s persona, perspective, and tone in light of the intellectual milieu of this period.  Extend the discussion to include a comparison of a painting from the same period, “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” by Pieter Bruegel, which depicts a very different relationship between human beings and heavenly bodies. W.H. Auden’s poem “Musée des Beaux Arts” comments on this painting.

4. After exploring the poem in the context of its intellectual origins, its genre (the aubade) and its formal elements (the apostrophe and the conceit), have students prepare a radio documentary or webcast in which a formal reading of the poem and an interpretive discussion are included. Models of interpretive discussions of poems such as William Blake’s “The Garden of Love” and Plath’s “Fever 103” are available.

More Poems by John Donne