Imagery and symbolism in The Good-morrow

As is usual with a Donne poem, the argument in The Good-morrow is carried on through the images or conceits used. So there is a density of imagery, and we have to pick out the central one first. This is clearly the iamage at the centre of the poem, the microcosmic one, in l.11:

And makes one little roome, an every where.

Map imagery

Map makersThe geographical images in the poem are straightforward. Donne lived in an age of sea voyages undertaken in order to discover new lands. Map-makers were kept busy drawing routes or making globes on which the maps were fastened. These have some validity for others, but not for the lovers. The geographical imagery is extended into the points of the compass (l.18):

  • North symbolises bitterness and discord
  • West symbolises dying

The lovers' world does not contain these directions. This is Donne's conceit. It is based on hyperbole – taking an idea to its limit so it becomes an outrageous exaggeration.

Other images

Some of the other images are more complicated.

  • The idea of one lover being reflected in the other's eyes is an important one (ll.15, 16). Donne combines this with the preceding image of globes.
  • Then he extends this to the fact that ‘plain hearts', by which he means honest hearts, show also in the faces of the lovers. There is no pretence, which is why there is no fear (l.9). ‘Perfect love casts out fear' says the Bible (1 John 4:18), and this is echoed here.

Donne often uses almost religious language in his love poems.

  • Christian belief states that only God is unchanging James 1:17, but here on earth, the place where everything is supposed to change, the poet is supposing they can defy this in their godlike love (ll.20-21).

The first stanza contains several interesting images:

  • babies at the breast and being weaned, suggesting the immaturity of their previous emotional life
  • the ‘seven sleepers', an allusion to a legend which tells how seven young Christian men from Ephesus hid in a cave during a persecution. The cave was sealed up, but the young men fell asleep for several centuries – a sort of Rip van Winkle fable.

Investigating The Good-morrow
  • Read through the imagery of the opening stanza
    • How does Donne make fun of their life before they became lovers?
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