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, tell me,
    Whether both th’Indias of spice and mine
    Be where thou left’st 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’is all states, and all princes, I,
            Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honour’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 centre is, these walls, thy sphere.

                    --John Donne

themusic's Poetry Selections

Judging by the title of John Donne's "The Sun Rising," the poem appears to be an ode to the morning sun. As soon as the first line is read, it is apparent that this is not so. Donne mocks the sun, calling it a "Busy old fool, unruly." Beleaguered, Donne asks why it woke him and his lover ("Why dost thou thus/Through windows, and through curtains call on us?"). He continues to ridicule the sun, offering several alternative activities for it (ll. 5-8).

In lines 9-10 it is evident what the poem is truly about. Donne proclaims love as free from temporal bounds ("Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,/Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time"). The poem is a bold declaration of love's power, which nature, in the form of the sun, cannot harm. Donne feigns praise for the sun's "reverend and strong" beams, then belittles the sun by saying how easily he can shut them out merely by closing his eyes ("I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink").

However, he will not, for fear of losing sight of his lover for even a moment ("But that I would not lose her sight so long:"). Although Donne adulates his partner ("If her eyes have not blinded thine"), he does not glorify her. The poem is about love, not his lover. He compares the wealth of India with the riches in his room (ll. 17-18). Donne believes love is everywhere ("She's all states, and all princes, I,/Nothing else is.") and overwhelms honor and wealth, as they are false ("mimic," "alchemy") compared to it.

The sun cannot achieve happiness like the two lovers can ("Thou, sun, art half as happy as we") because it is incapable of love. Its powers are limited "to warm the world, that's done in warming us." Donne ends in a conciliatory tone, superimposing the imagery of the sun's brightness with love's reach ("Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;"). He continues further, likening the sun's spherical shape to the walls of his room, with his bed at the center. This image of a perfect, infinite shape alludes to love's perpetual supreme power.

The Sun Rising seems to be written with a certain comic tongue-in-cheek arrogance. In this apostrophic poem, Donne demonstrates the greatness of the love between him and his partner by contemptuously dismissing the sun, telling it to attend to more important matters than disturbing him.

Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices,

The suggestion is that to Donne’s persona, the lover, nothing in the physical world can be as important or as powerful as the emotional bond between the couple. Although The Sun Rising makes no distinction between the physical and the spiritual in their relationship, their love as a whole certainly seems more significant than anything outside of his bedroom. He makes this point clear in the third stanza.

She'is all states, and all princes I,
Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compar'd to this,
All honour's mimic, all wealth alchemy.

Noticeable in these lines are the full stops – there are only a few in the poem as a whole, so it adds a strong feeling of definitiveness and finality to the phrase “nothing else is”. This extract also highlights what modern readers would view as sexism – his lover is “all states”, inanimate and subject to his control in his role as “all princes”. It is possible to identify different themes in each of the stanzas. The first establishes the persona’s humorous contempt for the sun, explains that it is disturbing him and his lover, and makes the point that love “no season knows” – he desires that they be left alone. He elaborates in the second stanza by discussing the beauty of his partner and suggests that they are indeed more powerful than the sun, although hints that he does in fact want the sunlight so he can see the woman. The third stanza emphasises the importance of love, specifically his love. He says that to him all there is to the world is his love. As such, he has changed his mind, and tells the sun to shine on to them; if it does, it will as far as he is concerned be shining on the whole world. Whereas earlier the suggestion was that their love was more important than the world, now the world’s riches (e.g. in the second stanza “the Indias of spice and mine”) are a metaphor for their love.

Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy centre is, these walls thy sphere.

The poem employs a degree of irony. In addition to the grand statement that something that only exists between two people could be more important than the Sun, in the first stanza he patronises it (“Busy old fool, unruly Sun”) significant given the traditional view one might have of the sun as a symbol of power, or a great force. He goes on to do the same at the start of the second stanza, referring to its “reverend and strong” beams in a sarcastic tone. The implication that him and his love are stronger than the sun is furthered when he cleverly points out that he could “eclipse and cloud” the beams with something so casual as a wink. By the end of the poem Donne has, in a manner reminiscent of his changing argument in The Flea, decided that rather than leave them alone, the sun ought to shine on the lovers, for the material riches outside of his bedroom are not insignificant, but significant only in his mind as symbolic of the greatness of their love. The point he effectively seems to be making is that his love makes him rich spiritually.

Each stanza starts with the rhyme scheme ABBACDCD and end with a rhyming couplet (EE) resulting in a satisfying ending to each verse, which helps highlight the thematic progression between them. Appropriate for the fairly complex rhyme scheme, the poem uses a complex metre, with a varied pace for each line. The end consequence is a sophisticated but flowing poem that allows Donne to apparently change his mind without this being to jarring to the reader.

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