The Good Morrow
by John Donne
Stanza 1 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
- No snooze buttons here. This dude (and we're assuming that our speaker is a dude at this point) wakes up talking. Although his lover doesn't enter the poem in a speaking role, we can also assume that she's the "thou" he's talking to.
- The first thing on his mind is a rhetorical question: what on earth did we do before we were together? ("By my troth" is an old-school version of "what on earth.")
- Like all rhetorical questions, this one isn't really meant to be answered (uh, I don't know about you, but I went to school and played in Little League). Instead the speaker uses it as a way to get his poetic monologue rolling, to get his lady friend thinking about love and why their relationship is so fantastic.
- When he starts tossing out possible answers to his own question, they aren't too serious. Perhaps they were children right up until they met each other, still nursing from their mothers? Riiiiight. That's a perfect example of hyperbole: deliberately exaggerating for effect. His larger point is that before this perfect, mature love, he and the GF were like children: hardly even alive, naïve, and self-centered.
- It looks like the dude's trying for some laughs, but he's also getting pretty naughty. Get a load of the innuendo riding right under the surface of lines 2-3. "Weaned" and "sucked" supposedly refer to breastfeeding, but after a sex-filled night, this guy's thinking of foreplay too.
- "Country pleasures" takes it to a new level. On the surface, "sucked on country pleasures, childishly" is another breastfeeding reference, with "country" implying that childhood fun is rustic (of the country) and unsophisticated. But the first syllable of "country" is also a dirty pun on a certain part of the female anatomy. Combined with "sucking," you can see that this double-entendre is getting down and dirty.
- The assonance of "sucked" and "country" emphasizes the naughtiness with a guttural "uh" sound. And don't skip the trio of alliterative W's in line 2: "were," "we," and "weaned." For more on how this stanza amps up the sound, head down to "Sound Check."
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers' den?
'Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.
- The speaker keeps up the hyperbole and preschool references in line 4 with an allusion to the Seven Sleepers, a legendary group of Christian children who were walled up alive by the Roman emperor Decius (AD 249-251). But instead of suffocating or starving to death, these children went all Rip van Winkle and slept miraculously for a really long time. When a random builder un-bricked the entrance 187 years later, he found them alive and well.
- So why bring these Sleeping Beauties up? Well, with this allusion the speaker suggests that anything before this relationship was (1) childish, (2) boring (because everyone was asleep), and (3) something to be hidden or afraid of.
- The quadruple S alliteration underlines his points with its sonic emphasis: "snorted," "Seven," "Sleepers."
- Line 5 marks the end of the quatrain (4 lines that rhyme ABAB) and the beginning of the triplet (3 lines rhyming CCC). In both cases, the letters refer to the end rhyme of each particular line. So, lines 1 and 3 rhyme; lines 2 and 4 rhyme; and lines 5-7 all rhyme. If you scan down the poem, you'll notice that every stanza is structured this way. So far, so technical. But get this: in each stanza, the quatrain sets forth some idea or circumstance while the triplet offers a chance for the speaker to kick back and reflect. Check out "Form and Meter" for more deets.
- Line 5 kicks off the reflections by settling the speaker's first question once and for all. Those crazy answers offered in lines 2-4? They were all true.
- Compared to this, all previous pleasures—whether of childhood or sex—were "fancies." In other words, they weren't real.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, 'twas but a dream of thee.
- The final two lines of the stanza sum it up. Thinking back on his life, the speaker says that any beautiful woman he saw, desired, and bedded, was merely a dream of his current lover. Sure, that sex happened, but compared to the love he's experiencing now, those affairs had no substance, no importance and, ultimately, no reality.
- Such a sweet boy! Check how the alliteration of "desired" and "dream" reinforces the connection between previous loves and nothingness. Aww!
- Now that these guys have found each other, they're starting to really live for the first time. They're waking up to a good morrow—and a new life.