Commentary on Going to Bed

The poem falls into two sections

  • ll.1-24 deal with the undressing

  • ll.25-48 with nakedness.

Donne is obviously impatient, re-iterating the opening ‘Come', as well as the commands ‘Off with ...' in ll.5,11, 15, 17, and other similar exhortations. He wants action, not sleep.

Lines 1-24

Just as the Elizabethans itemised each part of a woman's anatomy in the conventions of their love poetry, so Donne, in mockery, itemises each article of clothing that needs removing. It is not long before we realise how much more extensive a lady's wardrobe was in those days, and how many layers of clothing she woreElizabeth Hastings Countess of Worcester in Elizabethan dress

  • The girdle (or ‘zone') is followed by
  • That spangled breastplate' and by
  • The corset (‘busk')
  • Only then can the gown come off
  • Headpiece
  • Then shoes
  • This leaves her in her under-dress or petticoat which he then likens to the white robes of angels, rather than of ghosts.

Lines 25-48

The final nakedness is preceded by some energetic foreplay: ‘Licence my roving hands'. The imagery is of exploration and discovery. She is his possession, ‘My kingdom'. Finally she is about to slip off her final undergarment, and ‘Full nakedness!' is celebrated. Theological imagery of revelation is used, as well as of being given grace to receive it. This poetic strip-tease, however, stops just where all teases stop, without the full knowledge of whether she has actually ‘cast all ... this white lynnen hence'. All we know at the end is that the poet at least is naked in anticipation of their love-making.

Investigating Going to Bed
  • Pick out examples of what you consider to be erotic language in Going to Bed
    • How does Donne bring a humour to it?
  • How would you see Donne's treatment of the woman here?
    • Has this poem any appeal to a female reader?
      • Or is it merely written for the boys?
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