This is one of the finest poems of Donne explaining the complex nature of love. Initially, love has an element of fun and sex. It is like the dark night—an experience which is hot quite clear. But with the dawn, the true nature of things is revealed. The title suggests the dawn of the true love, its essential quality and the mutual understanding and confidence between the souls of the lover and the beloved. This kind of pure love provides a complete world to the lovers—a world without coldness, fear and decay. It is much better than the physical world. This perfect love is neither subject to time nor death.
DEVELOPMENT OF THOUGHT
In the beginning, the poet examines the nature of the first experiences of love. The first set of experiences is childish—the physical joys of love. The second set of experiences is much richer—it is the experience of spiritual love in which the voices of one soul are echoed by the other soul. The mature experiences of love make one disregard the first foolish acts of love, when so to say, the souls were asleep in the den of seven sleepers. The poet can only dream of true love in the first stage. The atmosphere of sleep, stupor and dream shows the fleeting and unstable nature of this kind of immature love.
The dawn of true love
The past life spent in childish love was a sort of dream and blank. The night of oblivion and unreality is about to end. The dawn of true love is imminent and it awakens the soul of lovers to the meaning of true love. This true love makes them open out their hearts to each other, without any fear or inhibition. Their love for each other is all-absorbing and all-satisfying. They have no delight in other scenes or places. Each is like a world to the other. This world of love is everywhere. The poet is happy with the world of love. Let sailors discover new worlds and make charts and maps of the lands they have discovered. On the other hand, the lovers are content in their own worlds. Each of them has a world, but the two worlds of the two lovers put together, make one world of love.
The two hemispheres
As the lovers look at each other, each of them sees his own image in the other’s eyes. Their looks reflect the simplicity, purity and honesty of their hearts. Their two faces may be compared to two hemispheres which together make up a whole world. The two hemispheres of the faces of lovers are better than the geographical hemispheres, because they do not have the ‘sharp North’ and the ‘declining West’. The ‘sharp North’ implies coldness and indifference—to which their love is not subject—and the ‘declining West’ symbolises decay and death from which the lovers are free. According to certain philosophers, when different elements, which go into the making of a thing, are not harmoniously mixed, the thing is liable to decay and death. This is not true of their love because their love is harmonious, and is sweet-blooded. As such their love is immortal and beyond the vagaries of time and clime.
In his inimitable way, Donne begins the poem with a question—what thou and I did till we loved? This rhetoric easily captures the attention of the reader. The poet compares the first stage of love—sex and enjoyment—with the mature type of love, the harmonious relationship of two souls. There is a lot of difference between the two types of love. The poet’s wit is seen in his contrast between the two worlds—the worlds of the lovers and the geographical world. There is no ‘sharp North’ or ‘declining West’ in the world of lovers. It is a mutual love equal in quality and spirit—balanced and harmonised in such a manner that it is not subject to time or decay. The poet proceeds from the night-scene and the experience of sleepy love to the morning of pure love which gives him a new life and makes him discover a world in their little room. No navigator has ever found a world as wonderful as the world of love. This discovery of true love is as welcome as the greeting of a new day.
Donne’s manner is that of ‘concentration’ advancing the argument in stages, reasoning till he is able to prove his point and drive it home to the reader. Like an able lawyer he presses his point in such a manner that it is very hard to refute it. Moreover, he marshalls his images from different sources in such a way that the cumulative effect is irresistible. Grierson rightly points out that the imagery has been drawn from a variety of sources, i.e. myths of everyday life, e.g. ’the seven sleepers’ den, ‘suck’d on country pleasures’ and ‘wishing in the morning’, ‘one-little room’; the geographical world, ‘sea-discoveries’, ‘Maps’, ‘hemispheres’; and lastly, the scholastic philosophy ‘what-ever dyes, was not mixt equally’. The relation between one object and the other is made intellectually rather than verbally.
Donne’s method in spite of his scholarly references is not pedantic and appeals to the lay reader by its sincerity and sharp reasoning.